How To Self-Publish A Book In 10 Steps [2023]

Do you want to learn exactly how to self-publish a book like a pro? I’ve been doing this for twelve years now — is it 2023 already?!? — and I’ve created this comprehensive guide to help you through the ten steps to successful self-publishing.

This guide covers everything from how to write a book that readers actually want, finding a professional editor, learning your niche and nailing your branding, how to format that manuscript of yours so it’s a perfectly reflowable ebook (some serious pitfalls here if you don’t know what you are doing), what price you should stick on that book of yours so that you can be enticing to readers but still make some scratch, and a few pointers on how to sell the blasted thing – as if you didn’t have enough to be getting on with! And that’s just for starters.

It’s a long, comprehensive post so use the menu below to click ahead, if needed. If you want my recommendation, grab a sandwich and read the whole thing. Hell, two sandwiches – it’s a monster – but there is a treat for you at the end. (It’s not another sandwich.) There’s even a place for you to ask questions at the bottom… if you have any left after digesting this beast!

1. Write A Book Readers Want

You can write whatever you like. This is one of the joys of self-publishing and being the captain of your authorship. However, if you wish to sell you must write a book which readers actually want to buy.

Here we run right into the first misconception authors can have about marketing. The aim of marketing – the non-sleazy variety – is to connect customers with products they already want to buy.

Marketing is not about creating a desire to purchase but tapping into one that is already there.

Writing to Market

Of course, that also means that marketing isn’t about convincing someone to buy something they don’t truly want. Which is a problem if you have written for a niche audience but you’re selling it to a broader one.

If you want to self-publish a tragic love story about star-crossed space weasels, or a time-travel murder mystery starring a cybernetic centaur and his non-corporeal nemesis Mister Stinkcloud, you can totally do that (and I would totally read it).

If your tastes lean more towards latter Han Dynasty poetry or you have a forever-burning desire to tell the true story of Second Punic War – but in the style of a sea shanty, of course – you can totally self-publish that as well.

You are the CEO of You, Inc. after all. However, if you want a career as a professional author you must consider the market.

Finding the Sweet Spot

This doesn’t mean you have to sell out, whatever that means. But you do have to seek the overlap between what you like to write and what actually sells.

Commercial considerations don’t end there – not if you are focused on building a career. If you are just a hobbyist, that’s perfectly fine and valid.

(And that’s not intended in any pejorative sense whatsoever. Both paths are valid. Just clearly delineating between writers seeking to build a full-time income and everyone else because the former requires a different toolkit.)

Size Matters

The career-minded self-publisher should note that novels sell much better than short stories. (But here’s some specific advice for short story writers.) And it’s far easier to build a full-time income if you write a series versus only publishing standalones. At least, that’s true for most genres and niches.

Virtually every piece of self-publishing advice must be caveated. Writers and readers and books are so diverse that often anything goes. Some generalities are necessary when dispensing advice, though, or else everything will end up qualified to death. So, let’s proceed with this firmly in mind: there’s an exception to every rule and authors love breaking rules.

Key point here is this: your personal preferences are irrelevant in one sense; the market doesn’t care what you prefer.

Going From Standalones to a Series

I started out self-publishing in several different genres. I focused more on short stories and standalones. As such, I can tell you the following with complete confidence.

It is much easier to make money if you focus on novel-length work in a commercially viable niche. A world or characters you can potentially spin out into a series too.

This advice really isn’t as limiting as it might sound; the market has swelled and balkanized to the point where that’s a rather generous runway for your story-plane and all sorts of sub-genres have become viable for self-publishers.

Maybe you’ll even surprise yourself! Personally, I found the process of considering the market and plotting out a potential series more enjoyable than predicted. And the increasing royalty checks from Amazon should make a rather comforting salve to any remaining discomfort.

Writing a book is an impressive feat. Getting all those words in the correct order is not as easy as Hollywood might suggest. And you should certainly congratulate yourself if you reach The End. You have genuinely achieved something special. And that puts you ahead of most people with literary inclinations. People who often never even start the book they have been talking about for years. Or rarely get beyond a few pages.

So, well done you. But now the real work starts.

Suggested Resources for Writing:

On Writing by Stephen King is a stone cold classic. This was the book that gave me the kick in the pants needed to go from coffee shop poseur to actual writer. Part-memoir, part-craft advice, it’s as interesting as it is readable – whether you’re a fan of his fiction or not. Especially great for beginners.

Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker is more for intermediate and experienced authors. It’s my favorite book on the thorny issue of plotting. It doesn’t matter if you are a resolute pantser (i.e. an author who doesn’t plot ahead). This wonderful book will teach you how to take readers on an emotionally satisfying journey. And as you will learn in this book, that’s the most fundamental aspect of storytelling.

Let’s Get Digital is by me, so, whatever. But it is a comprehensive guide to every step in the self-publishing process. And it has a bit more to say about writing to market than you get above – at least how I view it. Most importantly: it has a bunch more of my favorite writing resources if you liked these recommendations. Also, it’s free, so if you have a spare click or two in your pocket… it’s all yours. Can’t say cheaper than that.

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Finally, I don’t want writers of shorter stories to be dissuaded by this hard-nosed advice. There are plenty of ways that shorter pieces can work for you, and this guide goes through all your options.

publishing short stories story

2. Find A Professional Editor

Your work must be professionally edited if you are going to ask readers to pay for it. This is your one big compulsory expense in the entire self-publishing process. Feel free to plow your own furrow with almost anything else but it’s important not to skimp on editing.

I also suggest not looking at it as a cost per se. It’s an investment in you and your book and your professional development as a writer. I still learn a lot every time I go through the editorial process, even with my experience; it’s always money well spent. Let’s hope I placed that semi-colon correctly because I get hoisted by my own Picard every time I write about editing.

Hire a Pro

One of the biggest flubs a greenhorn self-publisher can make is to skip hiring a professional editor. Some try to do the editing themselves. Others get a journalist friend, or the teacher who lives next door, to edit their book. With all due respect to journalists and teachers (and DIYers), editing is a highly specialized skill set. Having a good grasp of grammar or a strong sense of style is insufficient.

Remember, there’s no bush league in publishing; your work will grace the shelves alongside the biggest books from the most famous authors in the world… and will be competing with those big names when trying to get reader attention.

Yes, editing can be expensive. But I’ll show you what type of editing you must outsource, and what you can handle in-house.

The Editorial Process

This is really confusing for newbies because there are multiple types of editing. Multiple kinds of editors. Different labels are in use for each of these editorial stages as well. And then sometimes terms are used slightly differently in self-publishing versus traditional publishing – just to muddy the waters further.

Some examples:

  • Content editing can be alternatively referred to as story editing or developmental editing. (Or dev edits, for fans of saving time.)
  • Structural editing could be viewed as part of content editing, or its own separate thing.
  • Sometimes line editing and copy editing are used interchangeably. These days, in the world of self-publishing at least, both are usually done together by a copy editor. But technically they are distinct types of editing and are handled separately by traditional publishers – certainly the bigger ones, who have a more drawn-out editorial process.

Reaching for the sherry yet? I don’t blame you.

Let me simplify this, with apologies to devotees of editorial nuance. Here’s how it breaks down for the typical self-publisher.


This is exactly what it sounds like: an author editing their own book. It’s not a replacement for professional editing in any way *even when self-publishing). Let me be clear on that before someone smacks me upside the head with the Chicago Manual of Style (17th Edition).

Rather, self-editing is what an author must do before sending their manuscript to a professional editor. And if problems arise during the editorial process a manuscript might come back to you for further self-editing.

Story Editing

It’s alternatively known as developmental editing or content editing, but whatever you call story editing, it focuses on the big picture. Story stuff.

Is your “high concept” actually quite dumb? Did everyone see your “surprising” twist coming a mile away? Is the central romantic relationship credible? Are your jokes missing the mark? Is your heroine acting in such an out-of-character way that your readers are going to hurl their Kindles en masse into a lake? That kind of thing.

Beta Readers

At this point I should note that many self-publishers will use beta readers instead of hiring a developmental editor. A fully hands-on developmental edit is just so expensive. Which is because proper developmental editing is very time-consuming, not because such editors are some form of literary brigand.

Feedback from beta readers is usually incorporated at this point, in conjunction with doing multiple drafts and several self-editing passes. All this means the order of these first three steps can be highly fluid for people self-publishing. But they will all be completed before moving on to the next stage.

Copy Editing

Reason you need all the above in order first is that copy editing doesn’t look at that story stuff. Instead it’s about your use of language and mechanics – spelling, grammar, punctuation, and so on.

Traditionally, line editing is separate and focuses on style (and is done before copy editing). However, copy editors serving the self-publishing market especially understand that these roles are often combined these days. Your copy editor should look at overall language usage. Things like repetition – and whether a sentence scans correctly or is overly clunky – as well as eliminating errors.


This is the final stage in the overall editorial process. After proofing, your manuscript will be locked down and the Ancient Ones will be invoked to watch over the ensuing debauchery.

You can handle proofing personally if you have an eye for errors – all that temping I did paid off! – but also remember that we can be particularly blind to mistakes in our own work.

Just make sure someone scans the text for typos, as they will surely be there, even with the best copy editor in the world. Authors can fiddle with a manuscript when it comes back from an editor, thus introducing fresh errors.

My Personal Process

If you want to dive deeper into the world of editing, and listen to me yabber on about how my own editorial and self-publishing process plays out for both fiction and non-fiction, then read my comprehensive guide to The Five Stages of Editing.

Keep in mind that my process won’t necessarily be your process. You will discover what works best for your own self-publishing enterprise over time. Just ensure, at minimum, that you:

  • self-edit your book until it’s as good as it possibly can be
  • hire a professional copy editor, incorporate the necessary changes
  • do your proofing until all typos and errors are eliminated.

Suggested Resources for Editing:

My post on the five stages in a proper edit is as comprehensive as it sounds. This will also help you find your own professional editor.

editorial process find an editor different types of editing book editing

And then if you want to specifically learn more about self-editing – what it consists of, why it’s not a replacement for professional editing, and how it still plays a role in self-publishing a professional book – then check out my article Self-Editing Explained.

how to self-edit, self-editing, editing your book

Aside from my own horn-tooting, I strongly recommend the book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King (and I respectfully suggest that non-fiction authors will learn a lot from it as well).

Elements of Style by Strunk & White is also a classic for a reason and should be on every author’s reading list. Even if you stray from the old-school strictures of Strunk & White when developing your own voice, it behooves you to first learn the rules. Achieve clarity and precision before spreading those wings you are so eager to flap.

3. Know Your Niche & Nail Your Branding

Time to put on your business hat; your nascent self-publishing empire shouldn’t ground to a halt while your book is being flayed by its editor. There are many things you could – and should – be doing in the meantime. Aside from writing the next book of course, which is always the most important task of all on your authorial To Do list.

However, most writers are creatively tired after a few hours in the word-mines, without necessarily being physically spent. Everyone is different with this, but I like doing my creative writing in the morning and any business, admin, research, or marketing tasks in the afternoon. Evenings, of course, are for exploring my fine collection of premium hams.

Determine Your Specific Niche

Anyway, one such business task which you should devote yourself to immediately is getting to know your niche. This isn’t an academic exercise, or speculative research for some unspecified future use. It’s necessary for self-publishers to understand the readers they are selling to.

I should stress that your particular niche is different to your overall genre, more specific. You may write under the fantasy banner, but your specific sub-genre might be grimdark epic fantasy. In the big world of romance, your niche might be contemporary romance or historical romance. And under an overall genre umbrella like thrillers, you may specifically write serial killer thrillers.

Don’t panic if these labels are unfamiliar; you will pick them up pretty quickly and only really need to be know those in your genre.

Research Your Sub-Category On Amazon

Some niches map neatly to specific sub-categories in the Kindle Store, where there are over 14,000 categories and sub-categories. You may already be aware of several such “shelves” which might be suitable for your book. If not, you must spend some time browsing around the Kindle Store on Amazon and identifying potential sub-categories. (International self-publishers: make sure to do this in the USA store – it’s the biggest market for almost any book.)

Online bookstores have distinct advantage over physical ones in that you can place your book on multiple “shelves” at once – which helps readers discover your work. But it’s important for many reasons that you only place your books where they are a good fit. (Not least because this will influence which readers Amazon recommends your work to!)

What is Packaging?

It’s important that your book looks the part, has a similar style of cover to what already sells well in the genre, that the pricing is in line with the books it will be shelved beside, and that the blurb is written in the requisite style.

This is your book’s “packaging.” The first step to putting your book in a package that will be familiar and enticing to readers is to know what is already working in your genre.

The cover for a bestselling contemporary romance tends to look very different to the cover for a bestselling historical romance. When you survey your niche, you will notice commonalities in every aspect of the book’s packaging – right down to little details like the type of fonts used and the voice that the book description is written in.

Find Commonalities In Your Niche

Familiarize yourself with your niche(s) on Amazon. Look through the Top 100 for your respective sub-categories. Make note of these commonalities, how these bestselling books are presented to readers. For bonus points, also take note of the authors who are selling well – particularly those who are aiming at the same readers.

Don’t be afraid to compare yourself to household names or mega-selling authors. This is a market research exercise, not public bragging which you might regret.

It’s not the time to be demure. If you are aiming at Nora Roberts’ readers, then note how her books are packaged.

Just don’t slavishly copy anyone. There is a big difference between recognizing that descriptions for bestselling urban fantasies tend to be written in first-person by a sassy heroine, and ripping off the branding of another author by using the exact same fonts and composition for your covers. The latter isn’t just unethical, it could also get you in legal trouble.

Suggested Resources for Branding:

Self-publishing is getting better and better at branding and positioning. Some authors are naturals and instinctively know their niche and how to express that in a book’s packaging. Others can be good at learning what’s hot in their genre but struggle more with the execution. A few can get in a tizzy with every aspect… but panic not, everyone can learn this.

I have a free course called Starting From Zero which has an entire module on exactly how you can research your niche, and then implement it as well.

free self-publishing course

Just remember to pay special attention to your cover. In fact, let’s all do that right now.

4. Design Your Cover

You may get your cover designed at an earlier point in the process. Indeed, some organized self-publishers have the cover designed first. It doesn’t matter as long as you have it in good time.

Everyone judges a book by its cover, in case that wasn’t obvious.

Your cover is often handling the critical job of that first impression with a reader. A great cover won’t usually lead to success on its own but a bad cover will surely sink you.

This is your only other expense which is pretty much non-negotiable. Unlike editing, however, there are decent options for those on a budget.

Cover Design Costs

The cost of a custom cover can be considerable – up to $500 is common, although the sky is the limit. However, it’s worth it. A great cover can do half the selling for you and will ensure that only the right readers click on your book. Whereas a poor cover will repel nearly everyone… which makes selling your book an impossible task.

Too many self-publishers skimp on editing or covers, and then waste money on marketing – which invariably fails because they didn’t invest enough in producing a professional product. A cheap or homemade cover is often a false economy. Replacing it can be an expensive lesson.

I understand the temptation to design your own cover but unless you are an experienced designer, I recommend hiring a pro.

Besides, if you can’t afford a custom cover right now, there are some excellent money-saving options.

Pre-made covers are professionally designed too, just not to your specifications. But those can be great quality too. There are many pre-made cover sites, and quality varies a lot. is the best of the bunch. You can browse a huge selection of pre-mades, broken down by genre, from just $45.

Suggested Resources for Covers:

I have a giant article covering every aspect of book cover design which you really must read. It doesn’t just show you how to hire a pro (for a reasonable price), it goes one further again and teaches you exactly how to brief your designer so that you get the perfect cover for your story. (This is the secret sauce btw.)

It also has guidance for those on limited budgets, and those intrepid types who ignore my warnings and design their own covers anyway. By the way, this post will also help you generate the blurb for your book, and if you want to find out why I pair those two things together, well, get thee yonder.

book cover design book cover designers how to find a cover designer cover design costs

5. Lay Out Your Book To Capture Readers

Your book is finished, edited, and covered, huzzah! But you have a few more preparatory tasks before you actually publish it.

For example, you will need to format the ebook file so it displays nicely on every device. But before you can commence formatting, you need to consider your book layout.

“Boring!” you might think, and you would be right. But the decisions you make here could have a big effect on those royalty checks. Which is the very opposite of boring, if you ask money-mad me.

Optimal Book Layout

This is one area where savvy self-publishers are ahead of even the biggest publishers. And where you can get an edge on most of the competition – with just a little prep.

Experienced self-publishers know that the moment a reader finishes your book is the very best time to ask them for something. For example, to buy Book 2. Sign up to your mailing list. Review on Amazon. Maybe follow your Facebook Page, if that’s how you roll. This is something the large publishers tend to neglect, one way or another.

Those more traditionally minded publishers also tend to put in pages and pages of extraneous content at the start of an ebook – just because that’s what they have always done with print books. This kind of thinking permeates much of their approach to ebooks.

Slim Down Your Front Matter

Experienced self-publishers know that many readers will sample an ebook book before downloading. You want them to taste the meat as quickly as possible. That’s what will truly sell your book. Not how deftly you thank your ex-wife or how sincerely you express your love for Pomeranians.

Those sections like “About the Author” – which might traditionally appear at the front of a paperback – are moved to the back of an ebook by smart self-publishers. They are accessible to readers with a button-press regardless.

I’m sure you see a lot of variation in the books you read, once you know what to look for, but this is when area where you really must take your cues from successful self-publishers. We tend to have very slimmed down front matter to help convert more browsers into buyers, and spend a lot of time thinking about what kind of end matter is most effective, because that’s an even bigger marketing opportunity.

Make It Easy For Readers

Little details are important here. I remember switching from a polite request to review my book on Amazon, to one containing a clickable link to make things easier for them, and my review rate tripled overnight.

How you word phrase “upsell” will hugely influence how effective it is – this is where you dangle another book for reader to purchase, usually the next in the series. If you are shy or understated, then you won’t get readers excited and they won’t act on your suggestion right away – which is essential before your readers get distracted and move on to the next thing.

The time to capture that spark of interest is now.

If you are publishing your first book, then you won’t have anything else to sell readers but that doesn’t mean you should do nothing here. It’s absolutely critical that you use this opportunity to get readers to sign up to your mailing list – you should always be seeking to grow your mailing list, which is the most important marketing tool any author has. Asking (politely) for reviews is always smart.

Don’t waste this opportunity.

Suggested Resources on Book Layout:

My free book Following will teach you how to set-up your basic reader-capturing apparatus: your website, your mailing list, and your Facebook Page. And it will also show you how to generate content which you can share in your newsletters and social media updates, so that you can grow your following and keep readers engaged until your next release.

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Following is only available as a sign-up bonus when you join my mailing list, and – hey! – there’s your first lesson in email marketing too: offering readers an enticing bonus is a great way to boost your mailing list.

If you sign up to my free marketing newsletter, you’ll see how all that works in real time plus you will get useful marketing advice every Friday plus you will get a copy of Following as a welcome gift. A win-win if ever there were.

Still not convinced? Hmmm. Maybe read the reviews on Goodreads?

6. Format Your MS Into A Reflowable Ebook

We’re barreling down the final stretch now so hold on to your helmets. Next we will turn that proofed manuscript into an ebook. This is a special kind of reflowable file that will magically resize and reshape itself for whatever device it is being read on… if you do it right.

If you get this wrong, you will see a massive spike in returns and a bunch of one-star reviews. So let’s avoid that.

The formatting options are so much better than when I started self-publishing ten years ago – which mostly involved crazy adventures into coding. (Reader: they weren’t so crazy.)

These days you have a number of satisfactory approaches, depending on your personal peccadilloes.

Hire a Pro

You can hire a professional formatter very cheaply and a full-length book can cost you less than $100. This is the easiest option obviously, but not without its downsides.

If you are just outsourcing then you won’t have the ability to make any changes yourself. Some recommended formatting services like BBeBooks will fix a number of typos for you at no extra charge though.

Use a Tool

There are a number of excellent formatting tools for self-publishers these days, many of which are free. And there even more terrible ones, so perhaps stick closely to my recommendations here. A bad tool can introduce errors to your book file, which you might only be aware of when the one-star reviews come rolling in.

If you are already using Scrivener, that does a reasonable job of turning out ebooks. Vellum is the #1 tool for creating ebook files, but is Mac-only, and not the cheapest anyway. Free options include the formatting tools at Reedsy and Draft2Digital.

Downsides of this approach are that it takes a little more of your time than outsourcing. Also, some of the tools (like Vellum) can turn out very similar looking ebooks – certainly I can always spot a Vellum book as a reader. (Although that’s not such a bad thing, to be honest – Vellum books usually look pretty neat.)

You might be a little more limited in how much you can customize your ebook, however.

Code it Yourself

The downsides need to be flagged up front here; this option is not for the faint-hearted. You will need to be at least somewhat tech savvy, and have lots and lots of patience. But if you are willing to spend the time – i.e. to learn how to code your own ebook in a HTML formatter – then you will be able to format your own books in a jiffy, fix any errors whenever you like, customize the look if your ebook any which way, and also potentially develop a skill to help finance your self-publishing business as well.

Plenty of self-publishers have a side-gig as an editor or cover designer or formatter – especially at the start. If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, check out my free guide to formatting your own ebooks.

Suggest Resources on Ebook Formatting

BBeBooks is my go-to formatter. I do my own ebooks, but Paul Salvette does all my print books. He also formats the ebooks for many fellow authors who highly recommended him. And if you want even more formatting service recommendations, check out my free guide Let’s Get Digital – which has all sorts of recommended providers: editors, designers, formatters, and more.

Vellum is everyone’s preferred automated tool for formatting ebooks. Well, everyone that owns a Mac. Us plebs with PCs are out of luck. Some use Scrivener – which is a word processor but has a reasonable ebook export function. Others use free tools like the formatter from Draft2Digital.

But hey, want to code your own ebook and make sure it looks exactly how you want and is 100% error-free? You can totally do that. I do that! Here’s my guide to formatting your own ebooks. Warning: only for the technically minded. And the patient. On the plus side, you learn a new skill.

ebook formatting, how to format an ebook, kindle formatting

7. Decide Your Price

You have everything needed to begin uploading the various retailers, but I recommend a couple more bits of preparation first. Because you will be asked to make some important decisions during the process, which can throw you for a loop.

Pricing is one of the biggest, and one of the areas where newer authors can have the biggest misconceptions. Self-publishing and ebooks have turned pricing on its head. Nowhere is the gap between self-publishers and traditional publishers more stark than when it comes to book prices.

Self-publishing often views price as a lever, whereas traditional publishers use ebook pricing as a bulwark – aiming to slow the transition to digital and protect the print market. Self-publishers must realise that a huge amount of nonsense about pricing flows from the desire of traditional publishers to make ebooks less attractive to readers.

On the author level, the most common misconception is to confuse price and value, and to make the mistake of thinking that the price you attach to your book either reflects or influences that value. Whereas experienced self-publishers view pricing as a marketing tool.

Those who have published a few books know that the price on the book cover is not so important as the money the book is bringing in, and they will tend to choose the price that will make them the most money – it’s often that simple.

Look to Your Genre

The other main consideration here is your genre. There can be a wide variance in price depending on the kind of book you write. Romance novels can be far cheaper than a business book, for example, so make sure you are within the normal range for your niche.

And make sure that you are pricing like self-publishers, rather than big traditional publishers. They aren’t seeking to maximize income from ebooks, like you are – they are often more concerned about protecting their print sales, as mentioned, and will artificially price ebooks higher as a result. Copy them and your sales will suffer.

Don’t price too low though. You need to leave room for yourself to run the occasional price promotion. Leading off with a bargain basement price won’t give you much wriggle room.

One last thing: when surveying your niche, be careful to parse out experienced authors who might be doing something aggressive like a 99c launch. They are deploying a specific strategy involving multiple books, which you can ignore for now.

If in doubt, a price of $2.99-$4.99 won’t see you far wrong, and will ensure you get the highest royalty rates on all retailers.

Suggested Resources on Pricing:

I have a longer digression on ebook pricing you can read. I especially recommend perusing that if you are reticent to price cheaply or run promotions. Or if you have ever used the phrase, “I should get paid more for my book than people spend on a coffee.” (Sorry for picking on you like that, but this is important!)

If you’re skeptical, here’s a taste: “Price is not a hill to die on, but a powerful tool for levering your books into the charts, rewarding fans, generating buzz, and expanding your audience.” Well said, says I. (About me.)

ebook pricing

8. Optimize Your Metadata

Metadata can be a scary word to normies, but it just means little pieces of information that you attach to your book when self-publishing it. See? Not so freaky after all.

It’s basically just some fields you fill out when uploading – nothing to fear. And these bits of information are things you will be familiar with (one hopes!) like your name and your book’s title. Others you might be less familiar with include categories and keywords – and these are the really important bits of metadata you should particularly focus on.

Collating Your Metadata

If you followed my recommendations above on knowing your niche, you will have made a head start on the category front. And if you read my monster post on cover design, you will be already lapping the ne’er do wells who skipped over it. But keywords might be a bit trickier for you.

I don’t know how far down the geekhole you want to go on this topic – I have a book called Amazon Decoded which gets pretty far down there in places, for those so inclined. However, I can also give you the quick-and-dirty version right here, because I’m good like that.


You can only pick two categories when uploading – from a rather limited menu. But you can add a lot more later (up to ten ebook and print book categories, in fact), so be thorough in your research now.

Go through all those hilariously niche sub-categories on the Kindle Store which we mentioned earlier. And find as many suitable homes for your book as possible. Just keep it all relevant. Don’t throw your book in anywhere it looks out of place; that will hurt you long term.


Head over to and start a-searching. Type in things that you think readers might enter when searching for books like yours. Amazon will helpfully suggest common searches to you as you start typing. Draw up a list of potential keywords and then whittle it down to the seven most promising.

You can easily change this stuff after publishing so don’t sweat it too much. Non-fiction authors might want to spend a bit more time on their keywords; non-fiction readers use the search box more than their fiction friends.

Note that you need seven keyword strings. Each string can be made up of multiple words, with a cap of fifty characters on each. On Amazon anyway. Other retailers vary a little.

Suggest Resources on Metadata:

I have a video over at my fancy new YouTube channel which breaks down categories for you. Come for the mustache, stay for the beard, as they say. (Note: they do not say this.)

As for the krazy world of keywords, the description of the above video will give you a bunch of resources to explore.

Finally, for the ubergeeks who want to get deep – so deep! – into the overall world of metadata, how the Kindle Store works, Amazon’s famous bookselling algorithms, and how you can use all that secret knowledge to sell lots of books, well, I got you covered.

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9. Distribute Your Book

Warning: this is nowhere near as straightforward as you might assume.

There are lots of places where you could sell your book but Amazon has a curveball with your penname on it. Welcome to one final area of self-publishing where it pays to be prepared before you press that big red button (it’s actually orange but whatever).

Always Publish Direct to Amazon

Self-publishing on Amazon is a no-brainer. You should always publish direct to Amazon – i.e. without using a middleman – as it has the most readers, by far. It’s also the easiest marketplace to gain traction, in a happy act of serendipity.

If you want to dig into all the nuts and bolts of publishing on Amazon, check out my free self-publishing guide Let’s Get Digital. But the highlights are:

  • no upfront fees
  • a 70% royalty rate for most sales
  • global reach
  • payment 2-3 months after a sale is made
  • publish print and audio editions
  • access to an advertising platform.

Saying yes to all that is a very easy decision but then things get complicated.

Amazon Exclusivity

When uploading to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) you get offered a few treats to entice you into make your book exclusive to Amazon; it’s not an easy choice.

In fact, enrolling in KDP Select – the name of the program which requires exclusivity – is still a matter of hot debate almost ten years since it was introduced. You may have seen authors debating whether to be “wide” or “exclusive” and this is what they’re referring to. (Now you know.)

Even experienced authors who know the business inside out can go back-and-forth on KDP Select and many will simply try it both ways and see which works best. That’s a viable approach, by the way, as you only commit to Amazon exclusivity for 90 days at a time and decide on a book-by-book basis.

Pros and Cons of KDP Select

There are so many nuances to this decision that an entire chapter of my free self-publishing guide Let’s Get Digital is devoted to breaking down all the different scenarios. It is a very individual decision, so spend a bit of time weighing the pros and cons – they are quite clearly defined but you must decide for yourself.

In short, the two primary advantages of enrolling in KDP Select are access to a pair of tasty promotional tools which make it a bit easier to reach readers, and then entrance to the Kindle Unlimited program – which is Amazon’s Netflix for books, in case you have been so deep in the writing cave you haven’t heard of the biggest disruption to book publishing since the last time Amazon turned the business upside down.

Some authors love it, others despise it. I would say that it’s complicated but that would be lowballing things by a ridiculous degree. See Let’s Get Digital for a lot more on all that, if you’re curious.

Going Wide: Outside the World of Amazon

If you resist Amazon’s siren call of exclusivity, there are at least four more retailers you will want to list with:

  • Apple Books
  • Barnes & Noble Press
  • Kobo Writing Life
  • Google Play

Note that Amazon has around three quarters of the market, and Apple is probably a good bit bigger than the rest combined. Yes, Google is a pipsqueak – at least in ebook terms. More stores than that exist, but they control miniscule slivers of the market.

You have the option of going direct with all those retailers. There are some advantages to doing so, including getting paid a little more. All these retailers have broadly similar terms to Amazon but check out Let’s Get Digital for the finer points.

Using a Distributor

Using a distributor is a sensible alternative if you wish to simplify your life. While going direct to Amazon is an imperative, using a distributor to reach the rest is a common choice.

There are a small number of reputable distributors and my strong recommendation is Draft2Digital. It will distribute your book to Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and a whole host of smaller retailers.

Draft2Digital also serves some subscription services like Scribd, and enables library sales as well. You can do all that with one upload, rather than having to deal with each store separately, which is quite the timesaver. All this will cost you about 10% of your royalties.

Smashwords is a legitimate alternative if you wish to explore other options.

Completists may wish to upload to Draft2Digital – even if they are already going direct with the other retailers. Library sales and Scribd can make this extra step worthwhile. Just note that you must go direct to Google Play regardless; they don’t work with distributors.

Suggested Resources for Distribution:

Kindle Direct Publishing will get your book on Amazon stores worldwide, and has lots of info on the platform. Apple Books For Authors is your port-of-call for Apple. Barnes & Noble Press is what will do the same for America’s largest bookstore chain. Kobo Writing Life will publishing you on Kobo, which is the biggest player in Canada and has grabbed a chunk of some interesting global markets. Finally, Google Play Books Partner Centre is the snappy name for the portal which will get you onto the smallest ebookstore on the biggest search engine in the world.

And then if you want to explore my recommended distributor, that’s Draft2Digital.

You can spend hours combing the help pages above to get all the information you will need on ebook formats and cover file sizes and royalty rates and payment terms – hey, it’s a free world! – but if you want a handy side-by-side comparison of everything, then Let’s Get Digital will see you right.

As for the slightly important step of actually publishing the darn thing, I have a video guide for you which walks you through the process step-by-step for KDP, explaining what to put in all those fields – so many fields! Yegads. The other retailers are all different, but similar enough that once you figure out Amazon you should be able to handle the rest yourself.

10. Create A Marketing Plan

Barely has your celebratory prosecco been quaffed when you come to the awful realization that there is more work ahead of you yet. Even if you diligently followed all the other steps and truly did publish your book like a pro, you know have to sell the blighter. And doing that involves getting noticed in a pile of eight million others.

Come back! Come back! I have solutions. I just wanted to impress upon you the scale of the challenge so you don’t start slacking now that you are a Fancy Pants Published Author.

Selling books is totally doable, thousands and thousands of us do it every day, and we all started from zero. Keep that in mind when encountering the inevitable frustrations which lie ahead.

Divesting Yourself of Marketing Myths

First step here is basically deprogramming yourself. Your head is, most likely, full of all sorts of gunk about how to sell books which is utterly, utterly false – or perhaps pertains to a world of print and traditionally published books, where self-publishers will normally sell almost everything online, and an overwhelming majority of sales will be ebooks.

Forget about:

  • book signings
  • pressing the flesh
  • talk shows
  • radio interviews
  • media attention
  • blogging
  • tweeting incessantly about your book, or
  • hiring a PR whizzkid – even if you have money to burn.

“What’s left?” you might reasonably ask… in a slightly despairing manner. Well, plenty.

And none if it involves donning a pimp suit, harassing people into purchasing, spamming, engaging in any kind of deceptiveness, or even entering meatspace – should that be the kind of body horror you routinely recoil from even in normal times.

Good news, right?

What Really Sells Books

What we actually do to sell books is a little more prosaic: we run price promotions and free promotions. We have newsletters for our readers and websites about our books. We spend a little bit of money on Groupon-style sites to highlight those deals. And… that’s it really, to begin with.

Later on, when you have more books and experience and royalty checks to spend, things will get more complicated – oh so complicated! – and you may get deep into any or all of branding, advertising, box sets, list swaps, group promotions, series deals, launch strategies, algorithms, and all sorts.

It’s a whole world, really, and you can choose your marketing poison when and how you like.

But those reassurances don’t make the prospect of marketing any less daunting to most authors. I was totally cheating myself. I have a marketing background and used to work for a tech giant – which is quite the twofer given the skills you need as a self-publisher these days. However, I understand how incomprehensible digital marketing can seem to many writers.

Building A Marketing Campaign

Self-publishing is all about sharing knowledge and paying it forward – that’s how I got my start. To help everyone get to grips with book marketing, I have created a free course called Starting From Zero.

It’s pretty extensive and covers everything an author needs to know when building their audience and finding their first readers. And it really is free! There’s no catch, no bait-and-switch, and I’m not trying to sell you anything else either – even the two coursebooks are free as well.

Enroll here today and talk the course at your own pace. Let me give you fair warning though: just because it’s free, that doesn’t mean you won’t have to work. I’m pretty serious about that part. Self-publishing like a pro takes time and effort. Don’t expect shortcuts or gimmicks or magic tricks.

free self-publishing course

But I will give you a very effective method for selling books, and show you how to create your own marketingplan. A career plan, even.

How To Get Reviews

If you are thinking that having a bunch of positive reviews on your book will help with the selling part, well, you would be right on the money. Here’s how to get them as a self-publisher, without spending a penny. I apologize in advance for Peak Lockdown Beard.

[Bonus] Build Your Author Platform

“And that’s not all,” he said with a ridiculous flourish. Some of the most critical marketing tasks actually take place before you self-publish your book. And I’m not talking about anything intangible (or questionable) like “building buzz.”

You might have heard the phrase author platform but I’m also guessing you didn’t hear it defined very precisely – or at all, I’m betting. I have a short, free book which will teach you what a real author platform is, why having one is so crucial to success in self-publishing, and – best of all – exactly how to build your own author platform.

Free Step-by-Step Guide to Platform Building

Following also tells you what you can skip too – surely a relief after this firehose of information. It boils platform building down to the truly effective essentials: a website, a newsletter, and a Facebook Page. (And you can even ditch the latter if you are really squeezed for time.)

It goes through the mechanics of building all that step-by-step, and show you how to grow your platform in a sustainable way – a platform that actually sells books.

how to self-publish a book free self-publishing guide publish your book for free self-publishers costs self publishing advice how to

Sign up here to get your free copy of Following. And see you in the charts, compadre.

Your Questions On Self-Publishing

Unfortunately, I get far too many emails these days to respond to everyone – it would be the full time job of several someones – but I do want to help as many people as possible.

If you have any questions, pop them into the comment box below and I’ll reply when I can.

David Gaughran

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

525 Replies to “How To Self-Publish A Book In 10 Steps [2023]”

  1. I think one of the best pieces of advice in this blog is about publishing directly to Amazon. It’s great to ultimately publish to other distribution networks such as IngramSpark, but going directly to Amazon KDP first could be one of the most important decisions you make as a newly self-published author.

  2. Hello, I am Milad Gharibzadeh, a writer, poet and screenwriter from Iran in the Middle East region, and I want to publish one of my short stories on your website as an ebook.

  3. Ok. I published in 03. They said i havnt sold one book. Menwhile everyone is selling it. If you can prove they have been lying and to what extent i will gladly work out an aggreement. Let me know asap apparently my book is hot and i have a trilogy. If we can rectify situation i would love to have you as my agent as i am a typical artist. Worthless at this kind of stuff but a great writer and musician. I believe there is alot of money hidden or whatever these bastards do. So please help me and dont rob me too. Pleeeaasseee. My other two books are hidden and when all this is over and i have money i think we should print and copyright my own stuff. But i really need someone like you. I think a college and theatre book/band tour would really pay off. Check out my book already and please get back. “365 a book of poetry”. Steve kritselis. Since i published in 03 everyone and thier damn dog has stolen my title and shit all over my concepts. They are retards. Got one hell of a copyright law suit(s). I think anyway. But timing is everything, if we wait the fire will die.

    1. Idk kinda wierd. Its not 1am. Anyway i see how important you are so you probably wouldnt be able to be my agent. Haha. But i hope youcan give me some great advice. The writing industry is way more diabolical then i imagined. So much jealousy and greed. So if you know any pro bono copy right guys if you think i have a case or any other thoughts, i would be very grateful. Thanks

  4. Lots of things to digest and I’ll be picking up more of your books.

    I’m thrilled you talked about BBeBooks and Paul Savette, I love that guy, I’ve used him for all of my books, my granddaughter’s first book, and my brother had his book formatted by Paul as well. Great work, and it always goes up smooth, even in the Smashwords Meatgrinder.

    Thank for all the work on this blog. You’ve got some great recommendations.

  5. Hi David. I only recently discovered you and all your wonderful content. It’s been very helpful so far so I want to say thanks.

    I noticed a bit of discussion in the long comment thread back from 2014 about how to handle second editions. I was wondering if you have a post specifically about that (different options and all the associated implications)? If so, can you share the link (I searched your site but didn’t find anything)? If not, I’d love to hear your thoughts( and maybe you should write a post about it). I’ve read a few posts from other sites but they weren’t very comprehensive or clear so I am guessing you might have better information to share.

    1. You’ll find detailed info about ISBNs in my free book Let’s Get Digital, but the short version is there is nothing to worry about – you don’t necessarily need to purchase any ISBNs.

  6. Hi, David! Thank you so much for this guide. I’ve been in the industry for several years now but it’s always nice to have reminders like those included here. I’m also just getting a grasp on the marketing side (sadly I learned the hard way, so here I am!) and am curious if you’d suggest repeating this exercise with every sub-genre an author writes in? Like many authors, I have lots of story ideas but a few fall outside of my typical genre (fantasy) and even more fall into their unique sub-genres. How do you balance the readers from one sub-genre with those from another while also maintaining your author brand?

    I understand brand is separate from genre and marketing is separate from branding but…it’s all a bit confusing and overlapping. Anyway, if you see this, thanks!

    1. I talk about this a fair bit in Chapter 1 of Let’s Get Digital – which is free if you want to check that out – but the short version is this: there’s a trade off with most things. In an ideal world, arguably the best approach would be to go through this process for every niche you write in, and to publish under a separate name for every genre where there is no overlap, and buy separate domains for each name, and develop mailing lists for everything, and social presences… etc. But that’s a lot, obviously. The cost in time and/or money in doing everything the perfect way is pretty high, and will cut into writing time far too much, so you have to make some concessions somewhere.

      I definitely recommend publishing everything as professionally as you can – otherwise you will have no real way of judging its commercial potential. But if you are working in multiple niches, you will either have to compromise by releasing things under the same name and thus minimizing some of the platform/presence building tasks, or compromise by reducing the amount of niches you are writing in.

      I think it’s hard to be successful in one niche, and super hard to be successful in more than one. Any writer will have way more ideas than time over the course of their career and will ultimately have to make some hard choices. Perhaps look at all the things you want to write, and try to focus on the ones with most commercial potential first. See how they do, and then either continue in that niche or move on and try fresh ground.

      I know plenty of uber successful authors who started out in one niche but didn’t hit it big until they moved to another (and others who started off writing in several niches, but didn’t get success until they focused on one in particular).

    2. Also keep in mind that you can import tropes from another genre – and it can make for a very enriching reader experience! Romance tropes can be imported into a historical novel. Horror tropes can be imported into fantasy. It can enrich your story, as long as you are careful to still hit the key notes for your own niche. And maybe it will scratch some itches for you.

  7. Read Let’s Go Digital – check.
    Take the free course – check.
    Build a social media platform – check.
    Build a website – check.
    Promote the book while writing and editing – check.
    Professional cover – check.
    Format through D2D – check.
    Set price reasonably – check.

    Watch launch week tank worse than my first ebook. Hooray!
    No one to hit with a mailing list for sign up – hooray!
    Discovery – nope!

    I have succeeded in failing miserably, but fortunately I don’t know how to give up. So…back to rereading your failure matrix outline to figure out where I went wrong, other than being flat broke.

    Unless you have any recommendations? I am a lot farther along in the process than I would have been without your resources, I just need to figure out where I faceplanted on my way to the finish line.
    No one reviewing – hooray!

    1. I’m sorry to hear you are having trouble. Nothing sucks more than a borked launch – I’ve been there, and I think nearly every single author who has been around for a while can say the same thing. So you are in good company!

      Do you feel like sharing a link to your book? It’s a little hard to diagnose potential issues based on the above. Feel free to email me privately if you prefer and I’ll see what I can do to help.

  8. Hi, David. I have an older copy–and loved it–of LGD, and followed the link from your newsletter, but the book isn’t free, at least on Amazon. Did I miss a deadline? I didn’t see one.

    It will be worth the money if I need to buy it, but thought I’d let you know I couldn’t find a free copy. 🙂

    1. OK so Amazon is on the case. They don’t know why it happened but they are pushing through the price match again and it should go free shortly – they said anything between a few minutes and a few hours, but it is in motion! And thanks again for letting me know.

  9. love this one David, will gobble it up and leave a review this night

    thanks for all the work and the extra bonusses – even the cover looks smashing :))

  10. Thanks, David! The 2nd edition was one of my go-to guides when I published my first book back in July 2015. Picked up the 3rd edition in early 2018 around the time I shifted to fiction. Can’t wait to read the latest version.

    Keep up the great work!

    1. I use Draft2Digital to reach libraries and smaller stores. I never really sold anything on the Smashwords store itself so uploading there specifically for that was kind of pointless tbh.

  11. Thanks all! I’ve embedded a tweet above for easy sharing, and here’s the respective post on Facebook, in case you want to let all your writer friends know, he says, leading the witness:

    I would be especially grateful as MailerLite is quite borked this week and I can’t hit my mailing list.

    Oh and while I’m brazenly panhandling, reviews would be HUGELY appreciated seeing as I lost all my previous reviews!

    1. I will gladly review. But may be some time as not yet started the read. However, I know it’s good because recommended on ALLi. How on earth did you lose your existing?

      1. It’s a brand new edition under a new ASIN and Amazon won’t let you transfer reviews if signifcant amounts of the content have changed (and that’s definitely the case here).

      2. It’s a brand new edition under a new ASIN and Amazon won’t let you transfer reviews if significant amounts of the content have changed (and that’s definitely the case here).

  12. I’ve downloaded this. It looks excellent. I’m so grateful to the friend who advised me to join your mailing list.
    I’ve bought Strangers to Superfans as a paperback. I have a lot of reading to catch up on but I’m sure it will be useful.

  13. Note to my mailing list subscribers: MailerLite has been having problems since the weekend and I’ve been unable to send emails since then – so I couldn’t tell you guys first, as usual! They hope to have things fixed soon though, so I hope normal service will resume this week.

    Just so you know…

  14. OK, just read right through you book David. A mini marvel! As a result, I’m upending my work day to start writing first thing. What motivated me was the immense satisfaction and lift you say you get from having banked some words for the day.

    The whole thing was a first class read. Didn’t even put it down, end to end!

  15. Hi, David, thanks for all this good stuff. You write, I buy, or download.

    But…but a friend sent me this email ’cause it didn’t come to me. What’s with that? No, I’m not yelling. Don’t want to miss anything is all. I’m on The List. Is there another list?


    1. You’re on The List! You are subscribed to my weekly marketing newsletter. This is the blog, which has its own separate subscription – a little confusing, I know, but I’ll be revamping all that shortly to make it clearer.

  16. Dear David,
    Thank you so much for all your valid, generous advice. Being an octogenarian newbie I soon bought your original books on publishing, and obviously now looking forward to the release of your updates. On the down side, I now regret splurging the shekels on MD’s 101 which I struggle with, when I could have invested the hard earned cash instead with a very necessary editor.

    1. I haven’t taken that course so can’t comment but I will speak generally: definitely invest money in covers and editing before spending a penny on marketing, and definitely invest time in nailing down those basics before worrying about anything else. It just makes it so much harder to sell your book, attract readers, KEEP readers, and make a profit from marketing unless those basics are in stellar shape. There’s no “bush league” in publishing – you’re competing in the marketplace against the biggest books from the biggest authors, and a huge number of authors with excellent presentation.

  17. Very exciting stuff! I snagged my copy of Following a few days ago and I’m a couple of chapters in. (Had to set it aside to tackle taxes now the reprieve is running out.) Looking forward to diving back into that, as well as these other goodies! Thanks for being a fabulous resource 🙂

  18. Hi David,
    Thanks for this article — I’ve found it and other articles on your blog helpful! Also, I recently started listening to Simon’s Rocking Self-Publishing podcast and enjoyed your interview. I also bought Let’s Get Digital and Let’s Get Visible — both very good!

    I have a question about something you mentioned in this article. You mentioned “padd[ing] out your blurb with some juicy pull quotes…” I assume these pull quotes are from reader reviews on amazon, b&n, goodreads, etc. But who actually *owns* those reviews? The reviewer? The site? (amazon? b&n?) I can see how it would be kosher to pull snippets from an amazon review and include it in the book description on amazon, but is it legit to pull quotes from an amazon review and use them in my book description on b&n or other booksellers? Or to print pull quotes from amazon in the front matter of the paperback edition of my book?

    Does one merely need to provide attribution for the review? For ex, you’ve seen those review snippets in printed books: “The world’s greatest book…ever!!!!” — Joe Schmo, New York Times Review of Books.”

    Thanks, David! I hope my question is clear and that you can at least point me the right direction.

    1. Technically, Amazon owns all the reviews on its site (and presumably it’s the same for Goodreads, B&N et al). That said, I’ve seen plenty of authors and publishers use Amazon reviews in their product description, or quoted on the cover, or in other promo material, etc. I’d say it’s one of those situations where it’s against the terms and conditions but no one is going to pull you up for it.

      But that’s not quite what I’m suggesting. The most effective pull quotes – and this is backed up by research from people like BookBub – aren’t those from a random review on Amazon, but from either (a) an author in your genre, and (b) a trusted publication. For the latter, that could mean the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, or a book blog that is big in your genre. For the former, obviously the bigger the author name the better, but any is better than none. You can have a look at some of my books for a suggested format (and I do it a little differently for fiction v non-fiction – the latter with more informational/longer blurbs, and the former shorter/hookier).

      Also be careful where you use the word “Amazon” as certain players in our industry can be stupidly allergic to it. Books containing the word “Amazon” can have trouble getting published at Apple. Barnes & Noble might pull a book from sale if it had the Amazon name in the blurb. And then indie bookstores might not stock the book if it has the word “Amazon” prominently on the cover. People are that ridiculous about it, unfortunately.

      Note: “trusted publication” will vary hugely depending on your genre and target market. A quote from PW or Kirkus does zilch for me as a reader, but can add a little heft to your blurb/description/cover copy. It’s another form of social proof that will help on-the-fence purchasers click that button – just like lots of positive reviews or appearing in the charts.

  19. Another wonderful blog post David. The timing of this article is perfect for me. I"ve spent the last month or so working on “finishing” my Cooper Moon series with books three and four. From the very first spark of the idea for this book, I have imagined it as a four-book series. Now, as I try (and the important word here is TRY) to finish this series, I find another story line creeping into the series. Initially, I fought the story line (it requires quite a bit of research) but it kept rearing its lovely head. It was just too good to let go so I decided to work it into the last two books. But it kept growing. And growing. Before long I started wondering if I had five books in this series. But, no, that was impossible – because this is a four-book series. I already have four covers planned. I already have four titles. So, I"ve been wrangling with this story line – something a kin to wrestling with an oiled python – and mostly losing.
    This morning, I take a break from wrestling and read your blog post. Suddenly (okay after a few months of wrestling is not so sudden) I realize that I"m making a mistake. If the material is there for five books – or six or seven or whatever – just keep writing. I get more email and messages from readers about this series than any of my other books, so I have a waiting audience. And yet, because I have this silly notion of a four-book series, I keep wrestling with that oily snake. As of this morning, my friend, I surrender. I"m releasing my hold and as that snake slithers off into the jungle, I"m just going to tag along to discover where its going.
    Thanks for the moment of clarity. Now, get back to writing. 😉

  20. I started writing a steampunk trilogy in 2012 and published the third book last year, only to find that the characters want me to carry on for at least four more… So that worked!
    I discovered the longer story arc, the difficulty of keeping track of minor characters, and the potential for a spin-off series featuring women airship pilots, plus a few techniques for pacing and dialogue that I might have taken years to pick up otherwise.
    More power to your pen!

  21. David, So interesting. I am on the same path. I"ve published 1 romance, 1 mystery, 1 psychological thriller, and 2 medieval romances.

    At the end of 2014, I decided to turn my writing passion into a business plan. To that end, I did several things —
    1) Made a list of all the book ideas I have mapped out over the years
    2) Studied the top 100 best-selling novels on Amazon and noted the story themes and genres that aligned with my list
    3) Zeroed in on 2 potential series in the mystery/thriller/suspense arena plus several standalones in the same genre

    Once the "business plan" was done, I decided to rewrite a thriller I had written years ago but just didn"t work. I rethought the concept, sketched out a 6-book series, and outlined the heck out of it. This week I started writing book 1. Since the original book was well over 100,000 words, and I plan each of the books in the series to be about 60,000 words, I only have 200,000 words to go!

    Wishing you great success with your "reinvented" career, which is something we all must do at least once a year!

  22. David, another great post. I"ve been following you since the beginning, and you just get better and better. I used your link to pick up Libby"s book on your recommendation and I"m now going to give it a read – and even use it!

    Continued Success!

  23. “I’m pretty sure I’ve put the requisite 10,000 hours into procrastination at this point, and I can cry-eat cake like a pro.)” It"s so reassuring to know this isn"t just what I do. Now back to that cake. Writing. I meant back to that writing.

  24. Thank you for this awesome post. As a new indie, having just released my first novel last month, it"s been kind of reassuring to read that even you guys who I look up as successful indies do similar worries about titles that don"t move like you expect.

    It also worries me at times, since I have seen that more and more in indie circles – about writing series. I"m really not a series writer. My books might connect on some loose level (my planned second novel, for example, is set in the same area but has no magic, and only brief easter egg type cameos of a few characters from the first), but there is really only one that could have any potential to be a series and then more likely a trilogy unless I stretched it out.

    For the most part though, my stories tend to be stand alone. Once I"m at the end, those characters move one and new ones come demanding attention. Though I guess in the end the take away is (hopefully) not that you have to write a series, but that it may take a bit to find what works for you for both the creative and business side and that will appeal to readers. 🙂

    P.S. Thanks for the tip on Reader Magnets which I was delighted to find was on sale for free today 😀 Snagged it and added it to my reading queue. Also agree, Write. Publish. Repeat. is awesomeness! Finished it earlier this month too 🙂

  25. David…just what I needed to hear today. I, too, write historical — It took me over two years to write my Civil War family saga and another year to edit and make sure everything in the timeline was correct (like the day Lincoln showed up at Antietam–got to have it right. There"s a photo of him in existence).

    I planned to self-publish, but then Kindle Scout came along…I submitted LOVE ME FOREVER (it"s a time travel) and it"s been an interesting ride so far. I have another week on my campaign and I"ll know soon after if my book is chosen. It"s hard to stay on the “Hot” list, but I thought it was worth a try. Have you thought about going the Kindle Scout route? Amazon has been promoting the winners, so it"s great PR if your book is chosen. If you have any questions, I"d be happy to help.

    Thanks again for an excellent post and one I"ll refer to often.

  26. I started off with a young adult book that turned into a trilogy, but it was my historical fiction (a novella) that really took off for me. It"s still selling well a year later. I realized from comments on amazon that a follow up was needed so I did just that and now I"m on the fourth book in the series. If you can keep up the momentum it"s well worth your while. I took advantage of pre-orders for books two and three and had a great response. Yours was one of the earliest blogs I followed David, when I began writing my first book, and I learned a heck of a lot from your books, Let"s Get Visible and Let"s Get Digital – a must for any authors who want to self-publish and market their work. Many thanks for your enlightening and very informative blog posts, too. All the very best with your own series.

  27. I think your approach and the resulting experience reflects your own intellectual curiosity and nature, David. A more mercenary first-off approach probably wouldn’t have been anyway near as satisfying for you. Good on you for your honesty and ‘beir bua’ for the new ‘merging’ approach.

  28. I think your approach and the resulting experience reflects your own intellectual curiosity and nature, David. A more mercenary first-off approach probably wouldn"t have been anyway near as satisfying for you. Good on you for your honesty and "beir bua" for the new "merging" approach.

  29. My favorite line: “This time I decided to try a different approach. For once, I wanted to be the person who just says, “Okay, I’m going to try all of that.”” This is a great post and expresses the challenges of applying theory to my individual writing life. Thanks for writing it!

  30. Great article David – I"ve been following the same path. Trying to write without an outline because I hate restrictions and forced process only to find myself stumbling along and taking copious amounts of time to write very little. I"ve learnt to address this via advice from the Self-publishing Podcast guys ( & WPR) as well as as Rachel Aaron"s great book but the other two books you recommend are new to me so I"ll definitely check them out.

    I"ve also found that structuring my word targets into small chunks helps loads and having fully fleshed-out story beats isn"t restrictive – it"s freeing.

    Good luck with the series – I"ll keep an eye out for it.

  31. Interesting how close our reading arcs and thinking processes mesh. Much as I love Take Off Your Pants and Write Publish Repeat, before you jump into all the outlining and plotting and character building, etc., why not go through Dean Wesley Smith"s “Writing in the Dark” blogs (soon to be an ebook I assume) and see what the case is for being a “pantser.” I"m not advocating anything, but I agree with Smith that we all work differently, so we need to look at the ways that suit us best.

    1. I started out as a pantser – it didn"t really work for me. It would be great if I could produce good quality work at a decent clip and have clean drafts the first time around with no outline. However, for me at least, that usually results in long periods staring at the page, having no idea what to write next, or writing myself into dead ends, or ending up with a structural mess, and so on.

  32. I too love Write Publish Repeat. You might also find David Farland"s Million Dollar Outlines useful. It"s less about how to construct an outline and more about how to construct the story. I"ve been reading it and rereading sections as I work on my first launch.

  33. Bella Andre and Barbara Freethy are terrifying in their output… but if you can"t take a risk with a series yourself, then who will?
    A business plan – even a bad one – is better than no plan at all.

  34. Thank you, thank you so much for this post. It"s wonderful and fantastic, and I"m sharing it on my writing message board and on FB.
    I also admire your bravery in sharing this coll, rational, and clear look at your own writing career with the entire world. Your analysis is so helpful and encouraging, even as it must have been painful to make. Also thank you for all the resources (and that python pic!).
    Have a wonderful weekend.
    – Hannah

  35. Dude…you are freakin" hilarious! Love the visuals! LOL

    I just bought all the books you recommended. I have some reading to do and I hope I can write faster, too. Lots of books boils down to multiple streams of income. It all adds up. The more you write, the more you have coming in. 3 books x $100 a month = $300. 10 books x $100 = $1000 and so it goes!

    As usual, you always provide excellent information and advice for those venturing into and living through self-publishing. Thank you!!!

    Arial 😉

  36. I"m also in the middle of reading Take off Your Pants! and its a great book. Surprisingly enough (maybe because I am a plotter and not a pantser) I had already been doing a lot of the things she recommends but I"d never actually sat down and wrote it out the way that she does so I can see how incorporating that is going to improve my outlining, and my speed. Thanks for sharing, David, I always enjoy your posts and I look forward to hearing about the upcoming series.

  37. Your situation is similar to mine. My first novel has taken 4 years of writing on and off and then I decided to write short non-fiction my first Active Patience: A Simple Guide to Productive Writing was released in November. OK that was months ago and I haven"t finished the other 2 short non-fiction or the novel that has been going on for years!!! It"s a hard slog but whats the alternative?

  38. You are doing the most important part of being a successful writer — you"re still writing. I lift my bottled water to you and wish you well.

  39. Hi David,

    Thanks for the update. I always enjoy reading about your journey. Your deconstruction process reminded me of Alex Sokoloff"s “Screenwriting Tricks for Authors.” She recommends breaking down several books and movies in your genre into acts and scenes to understand structure. I did it when I started a new series that was more suspense than what I"d been writing (cozy mystery). You may have already read it, but if not, it"s another good resource. I"m always looking for tips on plot/structure. Haven"t read Libby H"s book, yet but have heard great things about it.

    Good luck with the series. I"m sure it will do great.

    Take care, Sara

    1. My analysis wasn"t that granular, although I"m sure that would have been helpful too. It was much more of a simplistic overview, looking at common themes, flaws, goals, set-ups, etc. Like, the idea of revenge was one that came up a lot in classic adventure fiction/movies. And the accompanying idea that the hero often chooses – at the last moment – not to satisfy that thirst for revenge and do Some Other Moral Thing instead. Interestingly, often that choice actually killed the hero, but it didn"t matter because he was Healed Inside, and so forth.

      And thanks for the book tip – I"ve heard good things about that one and will definitely check it out. “Save The Cat” is another screenwritery book that pops up a lot in author recommendations. I should grab both of them… after I finish this draft.

  40. Hi, David

    I"m so glad Take Off Your Pants was useful to you! Very flattered, too, since I loved A Storm Hits Valparaiso and Mercenary. I"m very glad to help out a fellow historical fiction author (indirectly), especially one whose work I admire so much.

    I"m really looking forward to your new series! It sounds awesome! And here"s to that fifth (or eighth?) book that will tip you over the edge. 🙂

  41. This is wonderful David and for me extremely timely.
    Thank you so very much.
    I understood the series thing..only because I had so much story in me I really was forced to write a series. But I bemoaned my lack of everything else, especially how to get people to sign up for my mailing list, how to outline and how to promote through social marketing.
    Your posts, guest posts and books have helped me tremendously over the years. This post especially enlightened me that you genuinely are a talented man on the writer"s path … (meaning I can take you off that “writing genius god” pedestal I had you on)
    I say again with much feeling : Thank you David, it is so nice to meet you, thank you for your help and your willingness to share your experience and wisdom.

  42. Glad to hear you"re taking your own advice on how to become a commercial success. Obviously you"re already a beloved blogger and critical success. I like historicals (and eventually hope to translate that into an alternate history series( and I"ll be buying yours, but the fact that I haven"t bought any of your fiction to date is anecdotal evidence of how genre fiction readers make their decisions: genre first, author second. Only later might readers become loyal to an author and begin to read everything he ever wrote. I only have a few of those on my list.

  43. Thanks for the illuminating update, David. My motto: “Quality not quantity.” Don"t beat yourself up for being a slow–or careful–writer. Even many bestselling authors produce only one book a year. Why should the rest of us be expected to crank out more? As Orson Welles aptly stated in those old Paul Masson commercials: “We will sell no wine before its time.” Best of luck!

    1. Honestly, I think speed has very little to do with quality. Some of the best books ever written were dashed out in a few mad weeks, and there is no end to the amount of terrible books that were written very slowly indeed.

      I know your question was rhetorical, but there is no expectation on anyone to do anything. You are the captain of your ship! I want to get faster for all sorts of reasons. I think I can get faster, so I"m going to keep working at it. The cool thing is that as I have sped up a little, the quality doesn"t seem to have dipped – I seem to have improved a little on that front too. It"s baby steps all round, but that"s okay as long as they"re in the right direction!

  44. I"m pretty much at the same point, David, and my plan is similar to yours. Writing faster is imperative and I"ve decided this is my “no excuses” year. My muse has yet to fully cooperate though! LOL

    I"m currently working on book 3 of my niche series, which I"m hoping will boost sales there, but looking forward to getting back to work on my more commercially viable series after that. I have two books drafted in that one and will be working on revising and editing those, then writing the third, with the aim of three quick releases just like you are going to do.

    Good luck!

  45. This is an awesome email David! Such a saga, and a very interesting read. Thank you for sharing the journey with us, and I can"t wait to read the first book in the series.


    Sent from my iPhone


  46. Thanks for the heads up on series writing, David. It"s hard to figure out in the first place if your subject matter (e.g., mine is funny military sci-fi) is going to work, but it is also nice to know that the series itself needs to find its feet, like any growing child. At the same time, I did want to know that putting a series of stories together that has people saying "I laughed so hard my face hurt" is worth the effort.
    I"m in an odd spot right now that affords me the time to do a good job of story-telling and create consistent characters, but I can"t advertise much just yet for various reasons.
    It affords me the freedom to create and gain the consistency people want, but then I have to ask: are 5 stories enough? Are 9 too many?
    Is there some point at which the real-world exhaustion factor sets in and the series becomes more like the fanfiction of Star Trek and Star Wars: if those characters were real people and had to do all those things, they"d drop dead of physical and mental exhaustion.
    In regard to series writing and the lives of characters, is it acceptable for characters to age and die, which is real, but the universe in which they move brings in other characters and their stories?
    I wouldn"t worry too much about having slow days. Everybody has that. When that happens to me, and I find myself staring witelssly at the monitor, I go into the kitchen and make cookies and annoy my cats by singing to them. I also have other projects I can turn to, if need be.
    Keep up the good work.

    1. “Is there some point at which the real-world exhaustion factor sets in and the series becomes more like the fanfiction of Star Trek and Star Wars: if those characters were real people and had to do all those things, they’d drop dead of physical and mental exhaustion.”

      I think this is an interesting question, and there are probably multiple ways to address that problem and prevent stretching reader incredulity too far.

      My first HF covers something like 12 years. The second one spans an even longer period. In both cases, I probably tried to cram too much in – certainly in the first. For me at least, I think it was partly because I hadn"t fully figured out what “shape” a story needs to be for it to be naturally compelling to readers, so I was cramming in all sorts of fireworks to try and create that drama.

      One of favorite bits of Take Off Your Pants! is when Libbie talks about story structure and pacing, and she shows how supposedly quieter/smaller plots can be full of just as much page-turning drama if your story is structured correctly and you have a good handle on pacing.

      Now that I have a better handle on that, I feel more confident plotting out something that, for example, takes place over two weeks or a month and/or which doesn"t have to be filled with spectactular or incredible events that threaten the readers" suspension of disbelief – something that might become even more of an issue as a long-running series progresses.

      Or, to put it another way, if the hero saves the world in Book 1, and then the universe in Book 2, you might run out of road before Book 6!

      P.S. WRT your question at the end, sure. Writers do this all the time and there are an infinity of options: continue the series with someone related to the character in some way, with a minor character that previously appeared somewhere in the series, with the same “world” but totally different characters, or then interesting spin"s like showing the story from the perspective of the love interest or antagonist.

  47. David,

    So excited for you. I really think this is going to make big a difference in your sales. Looking forward to when the first book is out to make it a Featured Book on the Historical Fiction Authors Coop website!

    Mary Louisa

  48. Thank you, David. This has been an inspiring post for me. I already had Reader Magnets; now I"m getting Take Off Your Pants! I look forward to the reports of your further adventures with this strategy.

    1. Now that sounds like a great reason to run out of the door. 🙂 PS: Great to read someone I look up to struggles like the rest of us. I"m appalling at the whole email marketing do-dar-wotsit. Even though I see how important it is for authors (or anyone selling anything) I just don"t have the stomach for it. Good job I make money ghostwriting, although hearing those books are selling better than my own doesn"t sit well on my stomach either.

      Enjoy the beer!

  49. Amen to that, brutha! Pretty much hit the nail on the head there as far as my thinking goes as well. I reckon I could sum it up in one sentence: “Time to start taking it seriously!”
    Since the beginning I"ve been sort of writing what I felt I had to write, in a genre that isn"t a huge draw, because that is what I had. I paid lip-service to the notions of promoting, getting a Twitter account and leaning on Tweet Adder until it was shut down, running free sales as soon as they were allowed (as in, made easy!) – basically just doing the easiest, most obvious forms of marketing.
    So… I think a lot of writers in our position are now starting to think, “Well, we rode that first wave of self-publishing enthusiasm all the way here! Hm. Where next…”
    And of course, the answer is (as it should be) – to step up our game!
    We"re always working on improving our writing, as we always strive to make each book the best one ever, so that"s a given. The only thing we can really step up is our cleverness with regards to the Industry. All your points stem back to that, I think – market analysis, clear goal-setting, long-term strategy, breaking down success strategies and finding what works, then following that…
    All very different from when we first realised we could self-publish WHATEVER WE WANTED!?!?!
    And still expect to make our fortunes…!
    Well, money, yes, but not security for old age and a villa in the Seychelles…
    So. Time to get serious – for me as well! I"d raise a glass in salute to you, but it would be pointless because it would be empty.
    Damn Canada – can"t even afford the booze here 🙂

  50. David, thank you. You"ve put up a small but powerful beacon in the fog of my (and I suspect others) creative fog. Yes, it"s about focus. It"s also about being true to yourself and your particular muse/motivation. But most of us who write, write to be read and so a realistic approach to our art and its distribution is necessary – no matter how onerous it can sometimes be.

    I wish you all the very best for your future projects. And now I must go and purchase "Take off Your Pants" – worth it for the title-on-the-shelf value alone I reckon 🙂

  51. David, thanks so much for sharing your insights. I"m definitely in the boat of “I need to write faster” so that I can implement some of these same techniques, especially Stephenson"s one. I have some ideas and I"m torn between the passion books and the books that sale. So far, my sales haven"t been great, but my marketing is not stellar. Anyway, thanks for all the tips. We"re all learning together!

  52. I think you"re too hard on yourself, David. I too am a slow writer, but at least you have become marketing and promo savvy and have amassed a solid following for when you launch your series. I think waiting till you have the first 3 books written is an excellent strategy, particularly when you are a slow writer ?! Wish I had done that but too late now. Its all a learning experience. Good luck with this new venture!

  53. It"s the old ready, fire, aim problem. I appreciate your analysis and your evaluation of where you want to take your artistic output. Doing a strategic evaluation of what you want to write as well as how to get there is not a lot of fun. But as you discussed, the pay off is enormous. I appreciated your sharing how you did it.

    1. Doing the strategic evaluation (a wonderful euphemism for eating chocolate and watching movies!) was actually quite a lot of fun. As was figuring out the overlap between what I want to write and what sells. Working out adventure fiction archetypes and themes and tropes – all fun. The not fun parts are the false starts, the dead ends, the times when you wonder if you should be doing something else instead of tearing your hair out, and whatnot. I"ve always been the kind of person who has to make their own mistakes to learn, but it was a great help to just let go if my innate skepticism for ten seconds and just say “I will follow these instructions to the letter.”

  54. Good luck with this David. I"ve read all the books you mentioned – and many more besides – trying to find a method that works for me. When I reach the end of each one I think, “Yes! At last” – and promptly slip back into my old lazy ways, or find some reason why it won"t work for my stories (British whodunits/cozy mysteries.

    *Sigh* I shall carry on with the struggle – I have a notion it"s all in the outlining and am working on that – but don"t expect to make the bestseller lists any time soon.

    1. It"s hard to understand why or how something suddenly clicks into place. I"d certainly been getting lots of (great) advice from writer friends about switching to a series and how to approach it, and so on, and I guess I was almost at that place on my own before hearing Bella Andre talk… and then *click* I had a very clear idea of the path ahead.

      It was similar with plotting/outlining. I had read lots of stuff and tried any number of methods. For example, The Story Beat method from Write.Publish.Repeat worked very well for Mercenary, for example, but that was kind of cheating as Mercenary was a rewrite of a half-written, failed book from a year or two before, so I wasn"t starting from zero. More usually, I would flail around in the dark, focusing on drawing up a list of story events or plot points, rather than what I should have been doing: my hero"s internal journey/flaw/struggle etc.

      I tried reading Truby"s book – The Anatomy of Story – which Libbie Hawker"s method is based on, but I just wasn"t getting parts of it. Then when I read Libbie"s book… *click* all this stuff fell into place in my head and I felt like I understood it for the first time.

      Well, almost.

      I had to condense for space purposes, but there was a day or two in the middle when I could understand what Libbie was saying, and was digging the stuff on story structure and character flaws etc., but started to doubt whether *I* could outline that way. So I took my Kindle and a notepad to the pub, and sat there for three hours until I worked through it again and had an outline.

      I had to shut off that little voice that was saying “this doesn"t apply to this book I"m writing because [X]…” and just forced myself to do it. I think it helped that I had read Libbie"s fiction first, and knew she wasn"t all talk. Tidewater is a great book and she"s a really good writer. And it"s HF too, so I had no excuse.

      I can"t see any reason why this method wouldn"t work for cozies/whodunits. None at all. So it might be worth another shot.

      Hope you stumble across something that works for you, either way! I think that, like a lot of things in this game, it"s about persistence (or is that bloody mindedness!).

  55. Hi David,
    Firstly I would like to say thank you. I have now received your updated version through the ‘manage my content and devices’ section of Amazon. (My notes from your first version have already been backed up on my laptop, so I can check them out whenever I wish – I wrote LOTS).
    Secondly, in response to thread with SusanKayeQuinn, I have uploaded new versions of a book to KDP and couldn’t understand why I wasn’t getting the update. They were only minor changes, however, after emailing Amazon about it, they were happy to resend me an updated version for my Kindle.
    And lastly, when I look up ENT as far as advertising goes, I get a lot of medical sites about Ear, Nose and Throat Doctors. 🙂 What is ENT actually short for?
    Thanks again.

    1. Hi Katie,

      It appears I was misinformed. It’s a major screw-up. The version Amazon is letting you download from Manage My Content & Devices is the OLD version (despite the new cover).

      While I’m getting that fixed at Amazon’s end, to get the new version, there are three options:

      1. Call Amazon and they will push the actual 2nd edition out to your device. Here are the numbers (toll free in US & Canada): US: 866-216-1072 Canada: 866-321-8851 UK: (0203) 356 6212 International: +1-206-266-2992.

      2. Email Amazon and request same (but phoning is probably better to avoid successive rounds of emails and/or delays).

      3. I’ll send you the mobi and you can sideload it.

      The way you can tell if you have the first or second edition is simple. Look at the copyright page, the 2nd ed. should have “Second edition published September 2014” in bold on the front. The old one doesn’t. Also, in the 1st ed. the first chapter is called “Challenges Facing The Publishing Industry”. In the 2nd ed. it’s called “Appetite for Disruption”

      Sorry for the trouble.


      P.S. ENT = Ereader News Today! This one:

  56. I can tell you obviously know what you’re talking about. It takes a high level of knowledge to be able to provide such a succinct and logical map.

    But my favorite thing about this piece is that you accomplished a killer road map that is just that – a map. It’s not some perfect solution or get-rich-quick scheme. It’s a starting place that anyone can use.

    You’ve done a useful service here and I, for one, plan to pick up your book when the new edition comes out.


  57. Thanks for this it’s so helpful. I’m currently reading ‘Let’s Get Visible’ which I’m also finding extremely useful. What you say about not letting lack of sales get you down and being patient is just what I needed to hear! 🙂

    1. The *idea* behind much of that article is fine – it behooves authors to spend good money on editors and covers. But the idea that it takes $6,000 to self-publish is ridiculous. What’s even more ridiculous is how the journalist doubled down in the comments after loads of self-publishers (myself included) explained her numbers were off, and that she had made several errors (like claiming you need ISBNs or that buying reviews is ever a good idea).

      1. Thanks David for setting this straight, I was eager to know your view on this. So, the cost for the editing and cover could be less if I understand. And of course the idea of the ISBN and reviews.

      2. Oops. I had not seen there were so many comments on that article. Went through it and very much eye-opening! Thanks for pointing it out.

  58. Great info and definitely keeping a lookout on the second edition of Let’s Get Digital. This post came in a perfect time for the “promo plan” I’m putting together to accompany the ENT ad I finally secured next month (of course, they accepted too late to change my countdown deal and will just have to drop the price manually–lesson for next time). I noted the places you suggested placing ads and started some basic research on them. Unfortunately, for The Midlist, I can only find info for a $100 ad placement package ( but not the one for Free that you described. Booksends has a 5 review minimum (like so many others have) and Kindle Books & Tips merely has me sign up to “join our advertiser list” ( Am I missing something (overlooking some link, etc.) on these three?

    Also, while putting together his “promo plan,” I’m gathering a list of twitter promo options (those that retweet, etc.) and other related resources for those books/authors that have zero-five reviews in particular. If it’d be helpful, I’d love to share this list (with detailed notes and links, etc.) with you, your followers, or any other author that might be interested.

    Anyways… thanks for all you do for the indie community. I know I appreciate it and hope to be able to give back even a smidgeon of what you contribute.

      1. I have the same syndrome and only managed to find those links during naptime the other day. Happy to help 🙂

  59. On the basis of strong recommendations posted at many websites, and based on my own appreciation of the straight talk you consistently deliver, I’ve bought your book, and look forward to learning from it. Everyone in the business talks the talk. You also walk the walk–thank you!

  60. This is a great piece David. All your stuff is. Here’s my problem, though: I write what some might call literary fiction, you could call it contemporary or general fiction, maybe. A lot of this game depends on reviews. It’s damned hard to find book bloggers who are willing to take on general/literary fiction.

  61. Hi David! First, THANK YOU–I’ve found your content always fantastically relevant and applicable. I started with “Let’s Get Digital” and am about to embark upon “Let’s Get Visible.” Your quality is always perfect, which should be lesson #1 for any writer hoping for repeat viewers and buyers (otherwise known as a “platform!”).

    I wanted to point out that as I myself claw my way up and out of the rocky well walls of obscurity and financial limitations, I KNOW with 100% certainty that I will end up at my goal to be a financially independent author. That doesn’t mean necessarily another household name or a billionaire, but it does mean, for me, an even greater freedom than I now enjoy as a full-time, laptop-lifestyle manager of a boutique team of ghostwriters.

    And it’s because I can see the formula, which I think you’d agree with, and I’d love if you can comment upon, for independence as a self-published author, which I think is QUALITY + BEING PROLIFIC + SALES GROWTH (even gradual!). Simple!

    So many miss the prolific part. They toil for years on ONE book, release it, and wait, and then normally go back to their day jobs. If they would just keep on, even it it means a four-year plan instead of two, I think they’d start to crack the ice ceiling.

    For myself, I too have great novels I’d like to write, great works of pithy nonfiction as well. I don’t quite have the freedom to work on them yet. Instead, I am concentrated on (a) great ghostwriting which pays the bills and is in itself a dream-come-true, (b) beginning to publish abundant, shorter, high-quality titles to get the cash ball rolling, (c) working with a great team of people because we keep each other developing and penetrating the industry further and further. I use pseudonyms not to hide but to reserve my birth name for the works I ultimately want to write, and to allow me to practice in different genres.

    The e-book has resurrected a dream I’d given up on, and your quality leadership and insights have kept me excited about it all, like pouring gas on a fire.


    ~ Rodney

  62. Getting those reviews is a HUGE, HUGE point. In fact if I would modify any part of this list, it’s that if you have another book ready or coming soon, I would make my review CTA first. That’s what I did for my current series. The first book released, and the first CTA in the back was, “Like this book? Want the second one free? I’ll give it to you if you’ll review this one.” And it took them to a page on my site where they could send me their review URL.

    As a result, I’ve been getting an average of about 5 reviews a day for weeks now. After my book passes 100 reviews, I’ll change the order of the CTAs so that the email signup comes first. But for running BookBub ads and whatnot, it looks FANTASTIC to have an almost brand-new book (just a few weeks old) with (currently) 91 reviews. I’m looking forward to tweaking and expanding this tactic to drive new series up the charts faster.

    1. Yeah I think there are three key things that writers will want to focus attention on in their end-matter (and everything else should be kept to a minimum): the mailing list sign-up, the review request, and the authors’ other titles. Depending on your current needs/situation, you will want to change the emphasis or jockey the position of each of those.

      For example, if you have three books of a series out, and the first one is 99c or permafree (which authors should strongly consider doing), then the link to the next book might be the most important thing you want to train reader attention on. If you only have one title out, then the mailing list might be the most important thing. But if you are struggling to get reviews, then you might want to bump that up until you hit the number you are shooting for.

      As with a lot of things (like pricing), it pays to both be clear on your goals, and to experiment to see what approach brings you closer to those goals.

  63. Excellent, David, as always!

    Re: updated books – I’ve also been able to ask Amazon to force the update of my own book(s) as I wanted to check the newly uploaded version against my own purchased copy. It’s frustrating that they only re-deliver whatever version one purchased at the time, and don’t give an option to say ‘there is a newer edition: would you like it?’, regardless of whether they have ‘approved’ it as a generally available update (the sort that are given through the automatic update function).

    So as a previous purchaser of the book, if they do not ‘approve’ your it for a forced update, at least we could request it directly. The whole system is a pain in the butt really 😉

  64. David, Your advice is incredibly useful and well-written to boot. Thanks! Please keep on spreading the word to your fellow writers. We look forward to all of your posts.

  65. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Again, David sums up the self-publishing game with elegant simplicity. There are a lot of books out there about this business. We’ve looked at a lot of them and happily recommend David’s to anyone who wants a no-nonsense guide to what it’s all about.

  66. Can I just say HUGE THANK YOU for updating Let’s Get Digital, and for making it free for those of us who bought the first one. I’ll certainly be (re) reading it, and recommending it.

    And excellent list. The principles are simple, even if the execution isn’t so much.

  67. This is awesome. Copy and pasted your bullet points, now I have them saved to my desktop under “Marketing Plan”. Great stuff.

  68. Reblogged this on CKBooks Publishing and commented:
    David Guaghran spells out some very good things to do whether it’s your first book or your fifth. Also, don’t forget to do an ebook presale on Smashwords, and I’ve heard (but have not investigated) that Amazon is finally getting into the ebook presale biz. About time, Amazon. What took you so long?!

  69. I like the idea of this becoming a virtuous circle…. Anything that will make me feel virtuous about my writing is nice. (Insert cheeky grin here) Nice article. I didn’t know that was how also boughts came into being either.

  70. This post came at just the right time – I have a $.99 promo scheduled in a few weeks and submitted it to all the sites you mentioned except Kindle Books & Tips. I just submitted there as well, so hopefully that will give me even more exposure. Thanks for the tip!

  71. Thanks for posting this. Free advice is ample in this world, but free advice from someone who is walking the same path and is in a position I hope to be in 5 years.

    I have a question though. Would you recommend giving advanced copies to potential reviewers, or wait until after the official release?

    1. Absolutely. I did that for the original release of Digital, and the release of Visible, and it made things SO much easier having 15-20 reviews up there right from the start. I didn’t do that for Mercenary, and I’m still playing catch-up. Big regret.

      You will miss out on some sales from those you give ARCs to, but any author would swap 20 sales for 20 reviews at launch in a heartbeat. Easily worth the trade-off, and some of the people you give the ARCs to might end up buying it anyway.

      Now, when you start out you might not have anyone to give ARCs to. Don’t sweat it if that’s the case. You should have plenty of people to offer ARCs to the next time around. But if you do have anyone, even if it’s one or two people, it’s really really worth doing. Just make sure that you are only asking for an honest review, and not offering anything in addition to the free book as a sweetener, which is verboten.

      1. Hi David,
        I’ve discovered your blog recently and am quite happy about that. I found ton of useful pieces of very good advice on it, especially that part about email lists and mailchimp.
        Sad, though, that being a french author makes it hard for me to use bookbub ads as i suppose its for english written books (should really check that).
        My question today is on “sending ebooks copies for reviews”: i suppose we are speaking about sending them by email, not having them downloaded from amazon. Meaning the commentaries wont be labelled as “this book was bought on amazon”.
        Fact is, i heard reviews on amazon from customers who did not buy the book on amazon could be deleted by amazon automatically if there is any suspicion of false review.
        How do you get around that?

        many thanks.

    1. I can share what we do know about Also Boughts. First, they are triggered by ten sales. So if you see a book with Also Vieweds instead, that *usually* means they haven’t hit the threshold yet. Glitches can cause delays, but normally Also Boughts are crunched (IIRC) on a Thursday and a Sunday, so your Also Boughts will first appear on the next Thurs/Sun after you hit those first ten sales.

      Before you get Also Boughts, you won’t qualify for certain internal Amazon recommendation pushes – particularly email blasts to customers. And I think the level of email love you get is dependent on (or related to) your sales level between those Also Bought crunches.

      1. I can stop refreshing the screen then! I just launched a new title Wednesday and had the requisite number of sales in the US market by Thursday night. Now I can stop checking until Sunday.
        Definitely a good reason to have a segmented mail list. You could start with the first group to get the also-bot running and then send periodic emails to the other segments to spread out the sales and keep the algorithms happy.

      2. Definitely do. Also Boughts have been super glitchy recently, with some books waiting a week or two to get them. The system goes through these periodic spasms every, oh, three months or so it seems.

      3. Interesting note:
        The ‘Frequently bought together’ Bot is working already, even though the ‘Also Bought’ isn’t live yet.
        It must rely on a different data crunch and load-day. I think it just started working.

      4. That’s a relatively new feature (on the e-book side at least, it has been around in a slightly different form on the print side for ages). It’s probably something they are testing to see if readers like it/use it. We can’t say for sure if it’s going to stick around in its current form, or at all. And we don’t know anything about how it works yet, other than it must use some variation of the also bought algos, or something similar. Interesting that it appears before Also Boughts. Again, hard to know if that’s SOP or just because Also Boughts are laggy in general at the moment.

      5. Probably a lag thing. The other thing I’ve noticed on this title is that the US site loads the bots as much as a day earlier than the others.

  72. Thanks for the post, David and the tip from AG. My email list is half-formed. Just have a couple more steps to finish off. I’m using General Delivery which another writerly friend does and she’s sold thousands of books. My website has a healthy following.

  73. Great post. Just the advice I needed today, especially as August seems like a slow sales time in these parts (I guess lots of people are on holiday – I know I was gone a couple of weeks).

    It’s hard to remember that slow and steady wins the race… and also that it’s not actually a race. We have all the time in the world because, as you said, books have a million lives.

  74. The mail list is an excellent point. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard you urge us to set up our mail lists and I’ve always said I’d get around to it, but months went by and no list. I finally rented a mail box from UPS (I don’t want to give Mailchimp the address where my family sleeps) and set up a list.
    Then I wrote an exclusive prequel to one of my series and hosted it on Google Drive. When readers sign up to my list, they get a welcome email with a direct download link for the story. The only way to get it is by signing up for the mail list.

    It’s too easy to focus on roadblocks such as the need to use a physical address or the stress of figuring out a new system.

    All it takes is that first step…

    1. For Mailchimp I just put in my town twice instead of the street address and it accepted it. I know that gives a lot of folks pause… to have a physical address required…

      1. Interesting idea. My business address already has Calgary in it. Maybe I should have just put Coventry for the street. Every street within a five kilometer radius has Coventry in it….
        Calgary’s confusing that way.

  75. I’ll be uploading Digital 2 directly over Digital 1. This means that if you purchased the original, you will get the second edition free. I’ll be blogging about that in more detail over the next couple of weeks.

    Looking forward to this, as I’m doing exactly the same thing with my Indie Author Survival Guide – I’m hoping that Amazon will elect to notify readers, but even if they don’t, can they automatically get the update? I’d like to know before I issue the second edition.

    And of course looking forward to seeing your second edition!

    1. It’s tricky. Readers will be able to get the update via Manage My Kindle (and there’s something similar for Smashwords and Apple). I don’t actually know about B&N/Nook – still need to check that out (at worst, I’ll fulfill the promise manually if I have to). And Kobo are doing something for me to get the book to those readers.

      Notifying them is another matter. I’ve been trying to get in touch with someone at Amazon to see if they can do this, but without success so far. In short, KDP do sometimes send out notices to readers saying that there is an update available – usually when there are formatting errors or typos which have been fixed. I’ve never seen them do it for this reason, but I’m gonna try. I hope they will, it’s a far better reason than someone fixing screwy formatting. But I guess you are at the mercy of whatever random KDP rep gets the request (which is why I’m trying another route).

      I’ll let you know if I figure out a better way. There should be one.

      1. For the new versions of a few ebooks I received such email notifications, but for content updates and not just formatting fixes.

      2. Oooh that’s interesting. Would you be able to forward me one if you still have it? I’d love to see what it looks like. I’m david dot gaughran at gmail dot com if you don’t have it already.

      3. David, I was able to find the update notification of the book I mentioned in this thread, check your mail.

      4. Got it, thanks Paolo.

        Unfortunately, this email gives the reason for the update as “Significant editorial issues were present.” What I don’t know is whether the author had a genuine second edition, and this is what the bot spits out. Which I would hate, as it makes it sound like there were errors in the book which had to be fixed, rather than a genuine new edition.

      5. That changelog does indeed look bot-ish. But the author did add content to the updated version of the book.

      6. Ok, I emailed Amazon asking how to do this Second Edition thing, and here’s their response:

        Hello Sue,

        I’ll be glad to provide further guidance regarding update content of your book, and procedure to give advise to customers.

        1. If you are not making any corrections to the book and want to updated as a second edition, our quality team will not be able to comply with the process to give advise to customers since this procedure is only follow when changes are critical and change the story or the way of understand the point in several parts of the book.

        2. If you decide to publish your book as a new submission. It will be considered as a new book submission, which means that you will be in charge of notify your customers about this new submission and is not possible to notify customers who previously purchase a different submission for the same book. Basically the system will recognize it as a new book and not an update for the one you already have.

        Now, then if we received your request to give updated content to customers who purchased your book. We’ll need in order to confirm content updates, please provide details and detailed examples of the corrections made to that book. Once we confirm you completed the improvements, we will take any appropriate action within 4 weeks.

        1. If we find the changes you made to your content are critical, we’ll send an e-mail to customers who own the book to notify them of the update and improvements made. These customers will be able to choose to opt in to receive the update through the Manage Your Kindle page on (

        2. If the changes made to your content are to correct minor quality issues, we won’t notify customers by e-mail, but we’ll activate their ability to update the content through the Manage Your Kindle page on

        3. If the changes made to your content create unexpected critical issues with the book content, we’ll temporarily remove your book from sale and inform you of the issues found so you can fix them.

        We will only make the content updates available to your customers after we confirm you completed the improvements necessary to correct quality issues present in the earlier version.

        To read more about what issues we consider critical, please visit our Help page:

        We look forward to hearing back from you, we are just one email away!

        I hope this helps!
        Thanks for using Amazon KDP.

      7. “Readers will be able to get the update via Manage My Kindle ” Also… this is only true (from what I understand) if Amazon has cleared your book for updates. For example, I bought my own book back in 2012, but I’ve updated the backmatter many times since then. Even if I delete from my kindle and redeliver, even if I have Manage My Kindle AutoUpdates on, I do NOT get the updated version. Only the 2012 version.

        So, this would mean that I COULD NOT download Digital 2 (because I purchased Digital 1). And you can’t re-buy. *insert sobbing here*

        It seems like the only option is to manually give my Second Edition out to old readers OR upload the Second Edition as a separate book and allow old readers to buy it. UGH.

      8. Ok, a much BETTER email from Amazon this time, after I complained about their inability to do this well. Amazon, you are back in my good graces!!

        Hello Sue,

        Thanks for contacting us and giving me the opportunity to help you. I will be more than glad to assist you with your inquiry!

        You can upload your second edition without any problems. However, our Kindle Quality Department does not notify customers when a second edition is uploaded because as my colleague David mentioned, this would be a brand new book and not a new file that overwrote the previous one on an existing book.

        If you uploaded a new file for your existent book and update the title of it to notify that it is a second edition of the book, our Quality Department would notify your customers because they already bought your book and have the title on their Kindle devices. They would decide which is the most appropriate way to let them know that you uploaded new content for a second edition and customers will decide to download the new version or not.

        Some people decide not to download a new version that is being offered on their Manage Your Kindle option because they have already put notes on the book and highlights. When new content is received on their devices, all highlights and notes will disappear.

        If you don’t want customers to buy your book again, it’d be better if you uploaded the file of the second edition over your existent book, clarify on the title that it is a second edition, let us know which were the changes you made and we will make the request to our Quality Department. After the review finishes, they will be notified accordingly.

        Follow these steps to upload your revised content and replace your previous submission:

        1. Log in to your account at 2. Find the book you want to edit, and in the ‘Other Book Actions’ column, click ‘Edit Book Details’.
        3. Scroll down to Section 5 and under the text ‘Book Content File’, click ‘Browse’.
        4. Find the revised file of your book’s content and select it.
        5. Click ‘Upload Book’.
        6. Click ‘Save and Continue’.

        You’ll also need to reconfirm Content Rights and click ‘Save and Publish’. The new file will overwrite the old file within 24-48 hours. The ‘Look Inside’ sample should update within a week of republishing your book.

        To change the title of your book, please follow the steps below.

        1. Log in:
        2. Find the book you want to update, and in the “Other Book Actions” column, click “Edit book details.”
        3. Under the title section, make the necessary edits.
        4. Go to the bottom of the page and click “Save and Continue.”
        5. Confirm that you have all rights to publish by clicking on the box at the bottom.
        6. Click on “Save & Publish.”

        If your item has already been published, updated details may take up to 48 hours to reflect on the website.

        In case if you have more questions, do not hesitate to contact us back, we are here to help and we will gladly assist you. You can contact us back by replying directly to this email.

        I hope you have a very nice day! Thanks for using Amazon KDP.

      9. David – I’m hoping to roll out the Second Edition of Indie Author Survival Guide mid-October, at the same time I’m launching the new book I’m working on For Love or Money: Crafting an Indie Author Career. Easier to do two at once! 🙂

        Since it sounds like yours will come out first, I’ll look forward (as a reader) to seeing if this Second Edition procedure performs as well as I hope!

      10. Well, I’ll definitely let you know. I expect there will be some teething problems. I’m going to load things up a little in advance of launch day to do some testing. I’m hoping I can iron out any probs before the launch goes public, but we’ll see. I’m not expecting it to go 100% smoothly.

        I’m interested to see how doing this goes in other ways too. Obviously, uploading over the old edition means original purchasers can’t buy the second edition. And that’s quite a lot of people at this point, meaning I’ve no idea how this book will sell. I’m hoping that reader karma earned from giving the update for free will turn into some extra noise during launch week, but we’ll see. Fun to try anyway – esp. when it’s something that no publisher would probably let you do!

    2. I seem to remember the email notifications included a sort of short changelog, no more than a couple of lines.

      1. That’s intriguing. I wonder if it’s auto-generated or if the author provided the text. Did it look like something from a bot? Also, do you remember any of the titles? I’d love to chase the author down and ask them some Qs.

    3. Another data point on book updates. When a book I had bought was updated with a new round of copyediting, I didn’t receive any email notifications, and theere was no trace of the update under Manage Your Kindle. The only way I was able to get the new version was by asking the author.

  76. So glad you published this as its own list! This is fantastic. Sharing with my writing community on Facebook.

  77. I have written several manucripts and short stories, but is afraid to go into self publishing. Your story had encouraged me to do so.
    Paul Molokwu, Lagos Nigeria

  78. Really well written and after seeing my father struggle to publish his first book and then it becoming a reality, I hope more people listen and achieve this! 🙂

    (Not sure if I can pop this here but please check out my Sex & the city esq type dating blog! Would love your input.)

  79. I disagree that Self publishing means not accepting outside help there are alot of great smaller publishing houses and presses out there just be smart and do your homework. Also publishing a book is like any other creative process. Make a quality product and taking ownership go a long way.

  80. I just successfully self-published my debut novel, The Missing Five, on November 3, 2013. From my experience, self-publishing was easy and very inexpensive. My largest cost was purchasing my own ISBN, which I’m glad I took that route. But, I did a ton of research instead of just jumping in. I compared the traditional route, vanity publishers, and self-publishing. I read, re-read, and read again everything because I knew I had a great mystery to tell. I just needed to make sure that I followed the traditional requirements of producing an excellent book, which involved formatting, proofreading, and editing. I created my own very professional-looking cover and uploaded my manuscript (following Createspace guidelines and template). Then, I followed Smashwords instructions for uploading for ePub. As long as you follow the instructions, it’s time-consuming, but easy. Now, a week after publishing, I am already seeing the fruits of my labor through sales. I am definitely excited I went the self-publishing route and will do so again for my sequel in 2014.

  81. I don’t agree that publishing is relatively easy or easier than the other two steps. Not unless you make a distinction between ebook and print publishing. Ebook publishing may be relatively easy. Print book design is another matter. Even if one would hire an ace designer (a substantial expense), an author needs to know enough about the art and craft to assure that the print book will represent the branding the author wants.

    Too often in articles (your own Basics article, linked above, included) the fine art art of book design is relegated to a short paragraph, and often called “formatting.” Yet this is where the heavy lifting is, in publishing. Make no mistake, nothing screams amateur like an even well-written book clumsily presented in print form. It’s as detrimental to one’s marketing efforts as a first-try homemade cover.

    1. Carl, the whole point of the “Basics” article (as indicated by the title) is to give a quick overview of the steps needed to publish your book. It’s a four-pager, and hardly meant to be an exhaustive account of everything a prospective self-publisher needs to know. I have written a whole book on the topic, but I also recognized the need for a quicker read for those who were on the fence about self-publishing, so they could see what it entails. And anyway, the Basics doc contains numerous links to additional material on each subject.

      With regard to your first point, yes, print book publishing is more complex, but not radically so. You can hire a print formatter for around $100 and getting a wraparound version of your e-book cover is possible for a small additional fee. However, for the vast majority of self-publishers, most (if not all) of their sales will be digital – and, thus, that’s where their focus should be, and that’s where the focus of any articles like this should be.

      I also firmly reject the notion that I don’t place any emphasis on the importance of production values. In all of my books and articles on publishing, in all of the workshops I teach, I stress over and over again the importance of only publishing your best work, and presenting it in as professional a manner as possible. If you are going to level charges like that, you might consider doing more than skimming someone’s site.

      1. Hi David, Thanks for the reply. I only intended to critique the premise of the one latest article and specifically the statement that “Publishing is easy.” I’m actually a regular reader of your blog, and in fact have purchased your instructional books and South American novel (very well written, btw.) Sorry for any offense given/taken. I do consider yours a wise voice for the newbie indie publisher. And good print design is worth more than $100, I’ll add, as a final comment. Carry on! Carl

  82. I’d have to agree in the sense that hitting “publish” isn’t hard, but you tend to think about everything else as a part of the publishing process- the editing, the book design, the marketing,etc. If you don’t invest in any of these things, what you publish likely won’t result in the success that you hope for.

  83. Reblogged this on Insights and thoughts from Jordi Capdevila Espitia and commented:
    This is one of the reasons I chose to publish, starting from scratch a personal blog that i should have started years ago. Because writing is easy, and marketing is as hard as your goals are. It only depends on the reach that you want to achieve.
    Let’s start publishing then.

  84. Reblogged this on Insights and thoughts from Jordi Capdevila Espitia and commented:
    This is one of the reasons I chose to publish, starting from scratch a personal blog that i should have started years ago. Because writing is easy, and marketing is as hard as your goals are. It only depends on the reach that you want to achieve.
    Let’s start publishing then.

  85. What a helpful post to all those who want to publish. I’m exhausted thinking about everything that’s involved. So tired that I had to refill my wine glass. Twice. 🙂

  86. Thanks for the helpful post! It’s actually very reassuring because I’m using some of the methods you suggested to get my book out there! In fact I started blogging to help promote my book and ‘use media to build connections’ and all that.

  87. David,

    I agree that marketing is tough. Man, is it ever — sometimes I think it would be easier for me to build a robot than an audience, and I’m the kind of person who can hardly work a toaster without things exploding. 😉

    On a serious note, I included Let’s Get Visible and Let’s Get Digital in the Resources section of my online self-published book fair. Here’s the link, if you’re interested — and if there’s anyone you know of who I should add to the post, all the better!

    Your friend,

    Sarah J. Sequins

      Saturday Sequins — your source of sequinspiration.

  88. Insightful article! I always assumed publishing was hardest after writing because I haven’t had much success getting my stuff out there. I’m thinking about the e-book route and your post offers some things to think about and avoid. Once upon a time I almost got suckered into one of the vanity self-publishing presses. Thank goodness that didn’t pan through.

  89. Hi David! Great points. I’m doing everything myself for the first time and although its a lot of work, it’s not impossible and very gratifying!
    I just finished Lets Get Digital and it was such a big help and encouragement. I’m officially indie now and excited to take my future by the reins.
    Now on to Let’s Get Visible….

  90. Reblogged this on Scribbled Vines and commented:
    The Wrong Kind of Help lists some relevant points that any writer should consider before embarking on distribution and exposure for his creative product.

    For today, however, go outside and smell the roses and have a splendidly un-productive Sunday!

  91. I completely agree. The publishing bit is by far the easiest and the vast majority can publish a novel with little assistance. It becomes harder where multi-level contents and scaleable graphics are involved but that still doesn’t justify spending thousands of dollars to get someone else to do it.

  92. Right now as I write this I think the best form of marketing is to actually tell people. Word of mouth, and have a business card with all of your details ready to whip out and hand over when you tell everyone. This is something I have not been doing, but that will be changing from next year once I get a few things sorted out.

  93. Hi ,
    I feel that writing and publishing are completely different especially in some parts of the world where publishing and publicizing a book can cost a fortune .
    I have written many articles and book chapters , some were published in professional magazines and on line boks for fre but the idea of publishing a book of my own seems a far dream .In addition ,for many nations now ,reading a book has become an old fashioned way in comparison to on line resources .
    Anyhow I remain a great lver of books and writing ,I feel they are the essence of life ..

  94. Nice, straightforward advice. Thanks for taking some of the mystique out of self publishing. There is a lot of false information out there to be sure. But I think the bottom line is that if a writer wants to self-publish that they need to accept the fact that they will make mistakes and learn from them and do better next time. Overall though, I think more than anything a writer needs to research how they want to approach publishing, come up with a plan (doesn’t have to be complex or fancy) and then just stick to that plan and follow through, no matter what it is. One of the things that drives me crazy is that is it so easy to be led off the path you are on by getting distracted with some ‘new’ or ‘amazing’ method – especially those that are so easy that you don’t have to think about it, just follow the steps.

    Unfortunately, the claims of easy and surefire methods never turn out to be true. And honestly, if you want to establish yourself as a writer, why would you want to take some shortcut? You don’t do it in your writing – you shouldn’t do it in your publishing either.

    Writer Chick

  95. Publishing is now easy – because every single step is both under your control, and requires no muse. Yes, you have to educate yourself. And yes, you have to trust yourself and your own judgment. But this is the only place in the whole process where you have complete control – and I find it mystifying that anyone would give that up.

  96. The distinction between publishing and marketing isn’t always clear. I’m fairly sure I can write, absolutely certain I can self-pub, but way off beam in the marketing department.

  97. Great post. I have one foot in the traditional publishing world and another foot out, so I can see both sides of this. I definitely think publishers need to be “better than free,” as Seth Godin would say, and offer much more than they have in the past. More power has shifted to the author. Publishers have needed to re-think their value propositions – always a good thing! As for self-publishing, marketing is definitely a challenge. Writers aren’t natural self-promoters and most don’t have business backgrounds.

    1. Indeed. Next to editing, marketing is the biggest challenge for the self-published author. With a burgeoning marketplace of slick-looking book services sporting wildly varying levels of credibility and quality choosing a marketing service to spend your hard-earned dollars with has become an ordeal wrought with risk and anxiety.

      I suppose that in time a handful of effective and reputable services will emerge in the marketplace. Therefore I’m resigned to driving my own rattletrap marketing vehicle for the time being–learning the ropes and gaining the experience to make solid marketing decisions.

  98. Thanks for another great post David. The one thing I want to add is that some people set out to be one-time-only authors. I know of friends who, after retiring say, want to put out that one book that has always been inside them. These authors do not want to invest the time and effort required to unravel the publishing process for their lone foray into self-publishing. Publishing may be the easiest of the three phases, but for an occasional self-publisher, outsourcing the task to credible professionals, while avoiding the vanity presses, may be preferable.


      Physical publishing is getting easier and easier. Writing a book – well, I can only agree with what you said there, and it comes down to that some people are “born to it” and are prepared to make it a lifestyle and others don’t (they have other things to make a lifestyle of – it’s a fallacy to believe if you can operate a word processor, you’re born to write. If you are, you’ll know – or come to the realization; and it will not be dependent on what tools you have your hands on. Pen and paper would do it.)

      There is a beautiful machine around, the Espresso Book Machine, I covet one!

      David, I have to congratulate you on this post. I know I did comment it originally but it’s even better now. So much has changed from 2013, or even 2009 when I first put out a run of printed books. Leisure Books is gone! (That was one of our top 5 book sellers in South Africa.) Penguin and Random House have merged. My favourite brick-and-mortar bookshop chain (with about 5 stores back then) has gone bottoms-up, pushed out of business by a chain that is pushing just about all chains here out of business – on a Remainderer sales concept! Both my favourite book chain and this one had brilliant sales concepts (my fav used to put sales tables into the middle of busy shopping malls even if they didn’t have a physical shop in that mall, and that was how they pushed a lot of sales); turns out the Remainderer wins. And pricing here has become a war of wills. The printers now charge such a lot that digital runs have become unviable except for direct, out-of-hand sales. That means that digital runs here in SA can’t be sold to retailers any longer because of pricing. Clearly, our business model that worked for the previous years, has to adapt quickly, or die.

      Yes, self-publishing is a very good option for authors today. Still, given the financial power and the distribution capabilities of large publishers (they can print you a run of 10 000 books to start with and push it into 8000 physical bookstores, can you match that), I would want to advise a newbie to first submit to the large publishing houses. Especially a first novel. Don’t give up too soon – remember, publishing your book is a long-term plan. Set yourself a schedule, put at least 2 hours a day aside for submissions; keep your subs letter brief, to-the-point and upbeat, hopeful but not conceited. You are requesting a business deal and you have no reason to assume they would not want it. If after a time (I’d suggest, give it a year, yes a full year) you haven’t yet had success with submissions, consider self-publishing.

      Publishing with a small publishing co can be good or bad; some are fly-by-nights and struggling wannabes (some large houses are struggling wannabes by now!), some are predators out to “get” authors; some are only experimenting. Some are honest and tell you exactly what their plan is, etc. One thing a small house is definitely more likely to do for you than a large house: They fight for their authors, trying to get them publicity breaks. A large house gambles on numbers instead. You’re 1 out of 100 – how much publicity “love” do you think you’ll receive?

      One thing I have to agree with David on, 100%. Stay away from vanity presses. Their customers are the authors, not the readers. You’re the one who is paying them. Make the calculation. How many sales will it take to recover those “only $699” for polishing or whatever? Seeing that they don’t do marketing for you, you’ll have to generate those sales. That’s a lot of sales “lost”. You can invest in professional editing and cover design yourself by finding professionals in your area (that is a worthwhile investment!). It will cost you much less, and you get to keep the templates (i.e. the copy-ability), to take to whichever printer you like or publish on Amazon (or both!).

      David, I wish you the best with your books – they look interesting! Thank you for a great post.

  99. I agree that publishing an e-book is easy. I had finished a yaoi story series on a website, when it was finished I did not know what to do with the [like 50 chapter] manuscript. I mentioned this in a fan letter to an author and they told me to check out Amazon KDP. Well, like you said David, make a list, you can do it… I even put illustrations inside.
    But I’m a newbie so I think i’m a fluke. So I self publish 4 more books, but seeing all the “publishing site” out there, I still think maybe I’m missing something.
    So I contracted my books with a publisher, who has sold far less books and knew less about publishing than I do.
    So newbies, please, please, please, do not waste money… self publish… this is the easy part. you may need that money for marketing or to feed yourself while you plot out the next great novel. : )
    Thanks David.

  100. Reblogged this on newauthoronline and commented:
    A great post. I agree that marketing is the hardest part. I’ve found that Amazon’s KDP Select is one of the best ways to market my books. In return for making your title exclusive to Amazon they will allow you to promote it free of charge for up to 5 days in any 90 day period. I would also echo David’s warning regarding paying large sums to companies which offer to publish your book for you. I spent almost £600 with a self publishing company when my first collection of short stories, The First Time was published. I would have been better self publishing myself (the path I have followed with my subsequent books).

  101. That was a great article! I am preparing to release my first novel and its daunting trying to get everything squared away, such as blog sign ups for tours, doing the blurb, making sure the MS is in top shape! I love reading articles like this because it makes me realize I AM doing it right! I am doing it on my own! I’m still figuring out the marketing but I’ve come to realize I don’t have to have it figured out right now! Anyway, thanks for this article! I’m now following your blog so I can get more great tips! Good luck with the move!

  102. In general I could not agree more. However since I am currently on hold with the IRS (and have been for the past hour) trying to get my EIN, today publishing seems hard :-). But overall, publishing has been easy. I have worked with fantastic supportive professionals, who respond to emails in a timely manner, instead of the black box of traditional publishing that I tried to become part of for awhile. Writing though is hard and we would all be well advised to think of it that way. I guess I will find out about marketing very soon.

  103. So glad you started with the writing. That’s the foundation. I agree that publishing is easy, I mean self-publishing, which I tried for the first time recently after having published six books the traditional way, with mixed results. Self-publishing has made me face marketing seriously for the first time. Yikes! Who knew?

  104. I’ve just posted a link to this blog on Goodreads (I don’t think you’re on there?)… I’ve been reading your blog for a while – great, great advice! I’m on the cusp of going down the self-published route after feeling deeply dissatisfied with the way my publishers have handled things… Thanks for sharing so generously and best of luck moving to Prague!

  105. Thanks for all your hard-won advice, David, Good luck in Prague.
    I have put your books on the bookshelf of my Goodreads Self Publishing DIY group, with a link to this blog urging the members to follow it.

  106. A friend once told me the same thing as your intro — people talk about writing a book, but 99% of them don’t finish one. He did me the biggest favour by telling me that. We still laugh about it to this day, because that one line right there insured I finished my books.

    As far as marketing is concerned, I consider myself one of the luckier ones, having experienced what it’s like to release something independently and push it in the social sphere (my music).

    We talked a bit on facebook, but I just wanted to follow up and say that your book “Let’s Get Visible”, inspired me to start my own blog about adventures in self-publishing. Your tips and pointers on the matter are invaluable! Thank you 🙂

  107. Thank you David for your invaluable contributions to the New World of Writing.There are not that many people who would nail their colours to the mast as you have done..Always look forward to your posts. “Let’s Get Digital “should be required reading for anyone attempting to Self Publish. A brilliant book. I expect we’ll be getting “Lets go European ” before too long?.Good luck with the move to Prague.

  108. Thank you for this, David. We need to keep hammering it home: Hard work, yes–Difficult, no. I produce books professionally, but there is no one thing I do that any determined writer could not do themselves. I highly recommend to anyone who is considering self-publishing that they publish a short story or novella first, all by themselves, start to finish. The results might be less than perfect, but they will learn first hand exactly what goes into publishing and get a fair idea about how much it should cost. Hard cash outlay will be zero, the experience and knowledge earned will be priceless.

    1. I’m late to the party, but I wanted to say that I really like what you’ve mentioned here, Jaye. Doing various parts of the publishing process myself has given me a real appreciation of what those parts are worth, both to me and in relation to what others are charging for those services. Some services no longer look like the deal they once did, while other charges no longer seem as exorbitant as they may have first appeared. Great comment. Thanks for sharing!

  109. Thank you for the advice. I’m finishing edits on my first novel and have been heehawing between self-publishing and traditional publishing. Blogging has been helpful in accessing information that might help me make up my mind.

  110. They all take a level of discipline to engage in. I just completed a 100 mile century ride, my first in 21 years. Riding a century or running a marathon won’t make you more prepared to write and publish and vice versa, but both activities take discipline to prepare for and then execute. I like to think that because I can write and publish and market my work that I can also ride a century and vice versa. Discipline is learned and anyone can become disciplined enough to achieve a goal. Publishing was the easy and painless part. Doing the other two not so much.

  111. Reblogged this on Cindy Ray Hale and commented:
    I agree wholeheartedly. Anyone who takes the time to research the right way to self-publish can do it. It’s really much easier than it sounds.

  112. I totally agree David, which is why publishers have to offer more than just the publishing bit to attract authors.
    I do have one caveat though, which is that authors need to educate themselves (but reading your books!) and then go through the process a couple of times before it becomes truly easy. Now on my 8th book, I have my team of professionals lined up and know the ‘buttons’ to press, so that bit isn’t hard at all. But a newbie author does have to go through that initial learning curve to get to grips with it (which not everyone is willing to do).
    When people ask me about this, I ask them whether they are willing to give 70%+ of their income away to someone else (i.e. publisher/agent) to do that step for them. Many authors are, it seems, and with the rise of agent-assisted publishing, as well as ‘vanity’ imprints, there are a lot of options.

    1. I think it’s a shame that newbies get suckered into the so called Self Publishing Consultant abyss. I agree that you have to go through the painful learning curve first before you really understand what’s going on. David has been a tower of strength in exposing what actually goes on behind the shiny edifice (or doesn’t as is more often the case)

  113. Yes. Publishing is not the same as distribution/marketing, as the Great Erotica Panic of 2013 so recently made clear. Compared to distributing your book, the act of formatting your book for publication is trivial. Writing it, however, remains a bit of a slog.

    Hope your move to Prague goes well. Will miss you, oh online mentor of mine. Looking forward to your return to blogging.

  114. You’re always a constant advocate for helping writers avoid the sharks and find their best path – love it! So much, I’ve quoted (and linked!) to your article on avoiding Author Solutions and it’s many sharklets in my new book, the Indie Author Survival Guide. I blogged the book, so the content can be found free on my blog (or at the major retailers, if you want it all gathered into one place). I’m heartened how many friends I see spreading the word now about avoiding AuthorHouse vanity publishers – much more so than even a year ago.

    Keep fighting the good fight!

  115. While I don’y disagree with your analysis as such, the choice to define marketing as a discrete function rather than part of publishing is a bit of a big one, any good publisher should be a partner in the marketing at the very least (and much, much more at best).

    That said, I agree, the single act of publishing itself is relatively easy once you have the cash to finance it, what is hard is selling, getting shelf space, distributing, marketing and of course, choosing, pruning, editing and designing prior to and after publishing.


    1. From the perspective of a publisher, it might make little sense to separate out the functions, especially when much of the marketing they do happens before a title is released. From the perspective of a writer – particularly a self-publisher – marketing is something that tend to happen after a book is published. While we might do *some* marketing prior to release, that tends to focus on things like driving mailing list sign-ups etc. The lion’s share of the marketing is done after the book is live (because we don’t get pre-orders on Amazon and we aren’t marketing to bookstore buyers).

      1. Yes, you do. Look at any traditionally published paperback and show me the book that doesn’t sport at least two typos. They get reduced with new editions; however, new ones sneak into new editions too. Also, look at how many different cover versions there are for “Kafka on the Shore” by Murakami. Yes, back-list steady-burners get redesigned every so often.

  116. Right decision mate ! from a fellow Irishman.I am currently writing a debut model and am self publishing myopic.I’ve a friend who is a published author with a big publishing house.Whenever I discuss what the bottom line is ….it always seems vague.

  117. Well David, you really did made the right decision. Going to self publishing will take a lot of time and effort from you but it all pays off, much faster, than going through traditional publishing. Congratulations on your success and thank you for sharing your story. It keeps more authors inspired to turn to the DIY way.

  118. Great post, David. I appreciate the figures you cited to give us an insight into the actual dynamics of self-publishing and what an indie-publisher can expect when they put their book out there.

  119. I totally needed to read this post right now, at this very moment. Thanks for sharing your experiences. It gives me hope as I have decided to self-publish a novel this summer.

  120. Definitely self publishing was right for you and it gives me a bit of a push to try it myself someday. I have written a kids story or 2 but never had the guts to try get them published, also with all my crazy adventures around the world ( many say I should put them into a book someday. Perhaps I will get the courage to sit down and do something about it, hearing your story makes me think about it more seriously.

  121. I’m proud to tweet LET’S GET DIGITAL, David. It’s a fantastic book. Read it straight through when it first came out and now read parts of it from time to time. Thanks for all you’ve given the author community.

  122. I love that there are more and more of us Irish getting out there and making things happen (what is living in Sweden like compared to here, by the by?) There’s you and Catherine Ryan Howard who have both self-published and been successful. I’d say the satisfaction from being an author and following your dream is amazing. No more waiting for someone else to make it happen for you. So my sincere congratulations on your one year anniversary! And the idea of translating your book into other languages wasn’t even something I’d ever considered; let us know how that goes please! R.

  123. Hi David, first off congratulations.
    Glad to see your book in the featured section on wattpad. do you think a writer would benefit from posting their first book in a series on wattpad & amazon then publishing the rest of the series on amazon at a low price? Would you get any sales from the wattpad readers?
    Or would it be best to post a standalone on wattpad?

  124. Congratulations on your success. I enjoyed reading this article because, like you, I really don’t have much doubt about self-publishing my novel called “Beneath the Mimosa Tree,” a general fiction novel that I wrote and edited and fiddled with until it was just the way I wanted it. I was fearful that someone would come along and tell me to rewrite aspects of the book, and I was determined not to alter what it had become. Additionally, I have a background in publications, and I decided that I knew enough to proceed. It’s been out for a little over a month and it’s seeing mild success so far. The toughest part is getting people to know about it and consider it. Anyway, you are an inspiration and I look forward to reading more and following along on your journey.

    Stephanie Verni

  125. Congratulations on the one-year anniversary David. Your best-case scenario inspired me to take it a little further with a blog post of my own, revealing a little more of the world of traditional publishing. I wish you many years of doing what you love.

    Fela Dawson Scott
    a.k.a. Brit Darby

  126. Congratulations for your first year! Now a question:

    A new ebook author, I priced my nonfiction book (substantial in its field) at $9.99, which is where Kindle and Kobo have it. Now it has finally gone up on Nook…at $8.39! Who picked that price, and won’t that get me in dutch with Amazon? Is there a way to get it back to $9.99?

    How do you communicate with B&N? The website is not helpful.

    It is heartening to see that your rankings have varied all over the lot, too. In its first three weeks, my book has bounced from the 23,000 level down to 94,000 and back up to the 50,000’s. Like bronc busting! Your posts have been enormously helpful in their information. Many thanks.

  127. Your story is inspirational. I don’t have a finished MS, but have been considering self-publishing a great deal. Thank you for sharing your story and I am truly happy you are succeeding!

  128. Reblogged this on Writing Investigated and commented:
    Is self-publishing a viable option? Positive news from self-publishing is encouraging and empowering to authors. David’s posts are always clear-headed and factual, so take a look at what his experiences have been in the past year since he began self-publishing his stories and a novel.

  129. I enjoyed your article and agree. Only being several months since my self-published book was published, it’s easy to get down about small initial sales (I’m the author of I’m Fat, Help Me). But, your commentary on looking at who you are now having gone through the process was helpful to me. I’ve learned so much: the publishing process, editing process, taught myself WordPress to create the website (, and how to publicize the book. I’ve grown and I thank you for pointing that out.

  130. Congratulations, and thank you for being one of the trailblazers of this liberating trend. The one result of your decision to set yourself free from the old model that stands out for me is that “anything is possible.” In about four weeks, I will join the ranks of Indie Authors – I’ve not been this excited about my writing career for a long time. Thanks again for all the information and advice you’ve made available on your website.

  131. Hi David,
    one year ago you took a brave decision. I’m sure you’re a much happier person now than you were, or than you would be had you tried to deal with the gatekeepers and accountants. It really looks and sounds like you’re trying what you wanted to do all along, and I’m happy for you. Go on listening to your heart!

    Very best wishes,

    PS: “Let’s get digital” is by far the best book I’ve read on the subject of self-publishing.

  132. Congrats on your one year self-publishing anniversary, David. Here’s to hopefully many more to come.
    Hard to imagine that you only started a few months before me (mine is in July), since your blog was an immensely helpful resource for me when I was starting out.

  133. I’m late to the party, David, but I wanted to add my congratulations to the heap you’ve already received. You not only write a good book (fiction and non-) but you give so generously back to the community — I don’t know an indie writer who is more respected than you. Thanks again for that. Fortune will continue to smile on you because you prepare, work hard, and give back. I look forward to hearing how much you make in your second year!

    I’m looking at about $9K in profit since first publishing last July, and that was, practically speaking, all from one novel. It’s up and down — April was slow until I did a free stint yesterday and today — I’m happily celebrating 7,000 downloads for my political thriller RUNNING since yesterday… which means a total of 49,000 downloads. I’m fairly certain I’ll be able to say I hit 50,000 by tomorrow.

    The freedom and creative inspiration is amazing. I want to write again! I tried to sell various iterations of this book from about 1998 – 2011… but years went by when I just didn’t send anything out, because I was so emotionally bludgeoned by the rejection. It’s like hitting your head against the wall… finally, you just want the pain to be over.

    Now, all I have to do to get a book out is write it! (Well, and a few other things.) If only I would stop wandering around entertaining blogs like yours, reading rather than writing…

    Congrats and continued good luck, Dave. You deserve it.

  134. Congratulations on your 1-year anniversary, Dave. I loved reading your post as it mirrored my own experience a little, particularly the doubts and the pile of rejections. Oh the rejections! I do want to add that you forgot one thing – the respect you’ve gained within the self-publishing community for your insights and fact-based posts. It’s not a monetary benefit but it’s certainly something you should be proud of. Here’s to an even better 2nd year and beyond!

  135. Thanks for telling your story. I am one of the many other people considering self-publishing right now, and it’s looking more and more like the right choice for me. Good luck in your future work!

  136. Thanks for your story David. I am now following your blog and really LIKED this entry. I have been considering taking this path myself but am just waiting to get a final answer from an agent back in NY who has my full MS. Once I get an answer, then I’ll make my move one way or the other. Best of luck and keep it up.

  137. David, great post. I just made the same decision this week. I have one traditional book published, and in the last year, three e-books and a novelette. I have a pararnormal/fantasy making the rounds, now with an agent and editor. I’m going to self-pub it. That’s were my writing has come to live. Thank you for confirming what I’ve slowly come to know 🙂 And good luck to you!

  138. Hi David, congratulations on a year well-spent! I can’t believe it’s a year… I remember we started doing this around the same time and there’s something very wonderful about reading a year later that you don’t regret your decision, and that it’s helped you creatively. I have to agree with you there. Publishing might be a dollars and cents business like any other, but there is something creatively liberating about learning the publishing ropes oneself and putting out a product you can be proud of, knowing it’s success or failure is all in your hands – and that you’re NOT restricted from writing anything else and putting it out there. I remember I was pleasantly surprised when my poetry (which we all know isn’t exactly a lucrative niche) and short stories began to find an audience. I haven’t done spectacularly well yet, but the creative output I’ve experienced since starting this endeavour has been unexpected (read: huge). I’ve just released a first full-length fantasy novel (part of a series) and can only expect good things because, whatever happens, I know I’m in this for the long haul. This kind of indie publishing has made me inspired to craft more and more stories, and that can only be a good thing:) Congrats again on your success…. and back to lurking for me:)

  139. I haven’t gone this route yet, but I’m strongly considering it. Having had a great relationship with a small e-press with whom I see eye to eye, I’ve hesitated. But for three years I had an agent who either didn’t sell for me or refused even to look at several projects because she didn’t like the theme or setting or some other facet. She also refused to work with the small press, so every deal I made in those years, I made on my own.

    However, every time a book released, I got a nice bump in sales on the others. I rejoice with you on your success, and as I jump into this new river I’m glad to have a body of work whose sales can cross pollinate and keep this whole ship moving forward.

  140. Hi David,
    As you know, your blog on your experiences was one of the strong influences that led me to decide to self-publish my novel 4 months ago (after the book being tied up fruitlessly in a contract with literary agents for over a year).
    The result was that I was invited to be on the author panel at London Book Fair last Wedmesday, for the launch of the Alliance of Independent Authors, speaking on the subject of How I Went Indie and Why. I was able to tell the audience that I’d made £1000 in the previous 7 days from downloads on Amazon of my one novel.
    There was a representative from Amazon in the audience and I shook his hand afterwards and thanked him.
    Thank-you too David!

  141. Can I add my congratulations, David. Like you I self-published my first book last year (8 months ago in my case) – and my second one came out a month ago. Both are children’s books that had sat in a ‘virtual drawer’ for almost 10 years but were always very close to my heart. I had had a couple of near misses with them – one of them with Bloomsbury. But when it all came to nothing I went back to the day job (of copywriting!).

    It all changed for me when I took a sabbatical last year and, with the publishing industry having drastically changed, I decided to grab the opportunity to get my books to market myself….

    And I so agree with you comment that, until that moment “readers were a kind of mythical creature”!

    ‘The Secret Lake’ has done really well in print and Kindle by children’s books standards. I’ve sold around 900 since September. It’s also had some great reviews – including 5 Stars from the ex Head Reader for Puffin UK!. And Eeek! The Runaway Alien – which I self-published at the start of March – is currently top of ‘Reader’s Choice Top 10 Books’ on a respected UK children’s website called called LoveReading4Kids where they have placed it in 7+, 9+, Books for Boys and Books For Reluctant Readers… 🙂 This was the book that Bloomsbury liked a lot – but said was ‘the wrong length’!

    To add another snipped of empowerment – on Wednesday evening I received an email out of the blue (at 10pm) from a mum who lives up in the North of England. It is her son’s 9th birthday this coming Sunday and she had been Googling looking for books for boys and found Eeek! (And my email via my blog I guess…) But she had a problem – she could see that LoveReading would never get the book to her on time and they (and Amazon) were showing delivery times of a few days… To cut a long story short, I contacted Lightening Source yesterday (Thursday morning) who pulled out all the stops and ran a rush job for me (the extra cost to do so was £3.80!) – and – here’s the bit I can’t get over – the books were delivered to her house up in Sunderland 100s of miles away – at noon today!

    For any/all here you can read the detail of my marketing and sales stats on my blog

    Best of luck to all! 🙂 Oh – and if any of you haven’t yet done so, do check out the Alliance of Independent Authors which launched at the London Book Fair and is a global not for profit organisation for self-published authors

  142. Congratulations on achieving what you have achieved. Very good assessment, too. I have sold a little more than you in one year, but my ‘success’ was very promptly ended by entering my ‘well-selling’ book into the KPD select programme. Never mind.
    Your decision was the right one, but you never know until you try it. To be honest, I love those stories, but I writers/authors must look at it with a certain clarity, that it by no means, happens to everyone. There are still plenty of self-published authors whose books don’t sell at all.
    As for querying: I always said that I wanted to give my books a fair chance and query for a few weeks/months. Somehow, I’m over it now. Rather do it myself. Instand success, like you said. I gathered about 40 rejections for my novels and it looks like, rightly so, they don’t sell. Not one bit. I think I sold about 100, but that’s not cutting the mustard.
    Like you, I use the time to write and will hopefully release two or three books this year. Maybe I get lucky again, selling above average and with a steady increase.

    Wish you all the best and may your sales pay for anything you wish for.

  143. I think your year is outstanding and I appreciate you writing about it. Do this math – I have a couple of books traditionally published in print. They sell well. Cover is $19.95 I get 10% of retail. Figure out how many books I have to sell to make $5K. You chose wisely, Grasshopper.

  144. I completely, completely agree with you, Dave. All other factors aside, just the experience of having people read the book and LOVE it is something that would not have happened if I had not epublished. I know it is more the fashion to ascribe the possession of human emotions with the state of being immature, or childish, but the truth is, having an undue amount of negative feedback really does wear a person down. One would have to be inhuman to not be affected by that.

    The same people who have no qualms telling a friend to find a new job and not stay working for an abusive boss in a toxic office will tell you to have a thick skin and keep going on the query go-round, even if its highly toxic feedback loop makes it impossible for you to continue writing.

    There is no doubt about it–I am much more motivated to write now that I have three titles in my genre’s Top 100 list (THREE!) than I was a year ago when I was still licking wounds from years of being shot down by anonymous strangers. To that end, I have seven works-in-progress right now. SEVEN! And two of them are collaborations with like-minded authors who I know will do as much lifting as I will when promotion time comes. I feel fantastic about what that means for my future as a fiction writer.

    If you’d told me a year ago that I’d have this much going on, I’d have said you were high. Now, I wake up every day happy, and look forward to the future! And all because of what I did. Your book was a big part of that, and I thank you, sir.

    Good on you, and good on us!

  145. Congrats. David on your success. All along I’ve had the feeling that self-publishing was the route I wanted to take and you’ve given me more confidence to pursue this path. In your alternative case scenario no one would have yet had the chance to read your book. For me personally the fact that people are reading it and enjoying it would be far more important and rewarding than the money (though obviously the money would be extremely nice too!).
    Best wishes and thanks for sharing your story with us.

  146. Congratulations David and thanks for a tonne of inspiration as well as great information about how to do all of this. Someone mentioned China above, and I’m off to check out that link. But a though occurs to me: what about India? That’s a big market too, with a lot of English speakers and learners. Anyone know anything about tapping into the Indian market?

  147. Congratulations on a fantastic first year! And thank you for sharing the details and the side by side comparison with what would probably have happened if you had continued going doing the traditional route. The trad route is looking more and more pointless!

  148. I agree entirely. I’m coming around to my first anniversary too and I feel the same way. There is so much I don’t enjoy about the query process and the rejections (or even absence of a response) were totally demoralising. Compare that to receiving emails from people telling me they love the book. My best one was being in the supermarket and receiving a text from someone who had to tell me then and there how much he was enjoying it – that trumps writing to agents any day!

    Most of all it’s inspired me to keep going – to write more, publish more. I had agents telling me they didn’t want the book and now I have readers telling me they do. That suggests I’m on the right track.

    Thanks for your inspiration for the morning as I sit down to edit the next book!

    1. Not *quite* 28,000 subscribers! WordPress made some change a few months ago and started totalling blog subscribers, Twitter followers, Facebook Fan Page numbers etc. to make that number look much more than it is.

      I have nearly 20,000 Twitter followers which is boosting that number more than a touch…

      Actual blog subscribers is *scurries to check* … 2,585.

  149. This post was great, very informative and eye opening ( I am still in dummy stage). A lot of things to think about, lots of possibilities and no longer have to feel like such a loser over getting a few rejections, because there is always this path, just needs some commitment. Congrats on your success and hope your future books do even better.

  150. I was the author who followed the advice of others. Thank goodness I finally broke free, and am slowly, but steadily, catching up and seeing many happy returns. And thank goodness for writers like yourself who inspire and cheer on the rest of us. Best wishes and congratulations to a year above and beyond!

  151. I’m just dropping in to say that, as an aspiring writer myself, I found this inspirational. I’m also looking forward to exploring wattpad, and discovering your, and other, stories!

    1. They don’t keep selling at the same rate. They have continual peaks and troughs. I have sold 389 copies of A Storm Hits Valparaiso this month. If that rate continues, the numbers I’ve given above are *way* too conservative – but I took an average of the five months since release. But sales will certainly go up and down. Another example: Let’s Get Digital has sold around 100 copies in April – it’s weakest month in quite some time. But it sold 276 copies in March – it’s best performance in some time. It averages just over 200 copies a month. I expect next month to be a good one, with the release of the paperback, the French edition, and some promo.

      The difference between publishing myself and going via a publisher is that the publisher will likely only push the book for a couple of months, then it’s on its own. But e-books can have multiple runs at the charts if managed correctly. Quite frankly, publishers don’t think the right way to make that happen. They seem to think books “spoil” after a certain time, and (unless it’s non-fiction which has quickly dated) that’s just rubbish.

      I don’t expect all my titles to continue to increase exponentially, but I do expect my sales to increase overall. Each time I release a new historical novel, I expect to pick up new readers for my existing historical novels. In four years time, I expect to have at least five historical novels out (very conservative estimate), and a bunch of other titles too.

      My numbers assume zero growth. I think they are conservative.

  152. Amazing what you’ve accomplished in a year, especially when you include creating one of the very best blogs on self-publishing. Congrats!!

    1. John, I received 300 rejections on that book. I think $20,000 is more than a stretch for a book that plenty of agents had a chance to sign and decided they couldn’t sell it. But I’ll play along.

      If I’m on a $20,000 advance, we’re talking Big 6, so probably a contract with non-competes (preventing me self-publishing), and my rights are likely tied up for ever (hard for a book to go out of print with POD and digital). The likelihood is that it won’t earn out, so let’s say that’s the last money I’ll ever see on that book. And 15% of that goes to my agent, so it’s really $17,000.

      A Storm Hits Valparaiso has brought in between $3,000 and $4,000 (not counting publication costs). It has only been out for five months, and I still own all the rights to it. It’s the first title I’ve released in this genre, but I’m following up with another historical in July which I expect to boost sales of Storm. But let’s say things stay as is, and there is zero growth. I estimate I would overtake that $17,000 number in just over two years. And I would still own all the rights.

      Even if the advance was a crazy $35,000, I could expect to overtake that number in just over four years. And I would still own all the rights. which after the agent’s cut would be $29,750, by the same calculation, I could overtake that in three-and-a-half years.

      1. “Sorry James, your comments seem to go straight to Spam these days, and I’m not sure why, you should be whitelisted – apologies.”

        I notice it asks me to always login now. It changed a few weeks ago. Maybe I’m a spammer and didn’t realize it?

        Thanks for the Wattpad explanation. One more: what kind of content did you post first at Wattpad? Your entire novel, or bits, or short stories, or…?

  153. Hell yeah you should! Plus, just think of all the folks who you’ve inspired one way or another, in their self publishing endavours. Myself included! I was sitting on the fence for that decision around the same time you started this blog, and if it hadn’t been for the encouragement I got from following the first couple of weeks of your journey, I might never have had the courage. I can’t imagine I’m alone in this regard – that’s why you’ve got over 28,000 subscribers in less than a year! You’ve done a lot of good in this little industry mate, and helped a lot of people on the road. You deserve to be doing well, and I’m sure that will bear out over the course of 2012! If this is the new slush-pile, then you’re a cork – and Amazon is sure to bring out an Historical Fiction imprint soon… :0)
    Good luck for the next year mate!

  154. Hey, David. Congrats! I’m certainly glad I self-pubbed. My sales have steadily increased and I’m actually paying bills now with my earnings. It’s pretty awesome. Your book was instrumental in helping me find success as an indie author. Thanks!

  155. I’ve left a reply elsewhere to congratulate you. I thought you and your readers would also be interested in my experience. I haven’t had the sales success you have had, but I have had the great gratification of finding appreciative readers for my works. Before I epublished, I had really just given up after more years than I care to relate, but you can read about all that here: Reflections form an Aging Writer:

  156. Congrats on your first year self publishing. My year anniversary is coming up in May, so we started around the same time. I’m with you. If I had waited for an agent, then possibly a publisher, I’d still be waiting instead of earning money. I love that I control my destiny. I’m in charge of every detail of my book. No one is telling me what I have to change. No one is putting a cover on it that I hate. No one is putting me on a schedule. I have two full length novels out now and will have two more out by the end of the year. It was scary at first, but I’m so glad it’s the path I’m on!! Continued success to you!!! And I wanted to let you know that I don’t always comment, but greatly appreciate all the things I’ve learned on your blog!!

    1. This is really dumb. Even your replies in a continuing thread are being labelled spam. The filter is usually spot on, unless someone throws a load of links in their comment. It seems to have singled you out for some reason.

      As for Wattpad, I put a couple of shorts up, then serialized my novel over a few weeks.

  157. David, I’m a huge admirer of this site, and of indie publishing, but I don’t think your numbers are quite right. If a big, brave, ‘literary’ novel set in South America like yours is going to attract any interest, it’s going to get more than $5,000 worldwide; otherwise, agreed, no point in you signing.

    Given a good agency and a respectable initial US/UK publisher, it’s also likely to get a few foreign sales, and these do add up. If your initial hypothesis was $20,000, how would that change things? Or $35,000? The higher the hypothetical initial advance(s), the bigger gamble to go indie, although of course it’s always hypothetical, you can’t do both.

    I have no firm opinion here, I’ve done both; I’m just pointing out that trad advances alone can be enough to live on, and in many ‘trad vs. indie’ discussions the financial benefits of the trad route are downplayed and those of the indie maximised.

    Anyway, best of luck for your move to London.

    1. Sorry James, your comments seem to go straight to Spam these days, and I’m not sure why, you should be whitelisted – apologies.

      The Wattpad experience has been a very positive one, but I’m not even half way through the six month partnership with them so it might be too early to do a comprehensive post on it. It’s also quite tricky to ascertain what effect it has had on my sales. I’ll be interested to see how my next release in this genre goes, and see if I get any extra boost on launch.

      The short version of what happened is that they approached me in December about serializing a book (Storm) there. They started featuring me in February. Before that, I had amassed 3,000 views on my own. As soon as they turned the spotlight on me, that number climbed exponentially, and has continued to do so since then.

      They have done other things to promote that book, including guest posts, reposting some of my blog post, a cover-off, a YouTube video (!), and there is plenty of stuff in the pipeline like a Podcast to their members. I might also try and hook up with them to do some kind of self-publishing advice forum or question and answer session – we’ll see. But that spotlight is immense – that’s what is really driving those numbers.

  158. Congratulations David. You had an awesome year. One of the greatest things, I think, about this self-publishing renaissance, is that we genuinely want our fellow writers to succeed, so we root and we cheer and we say “yeahaaa!” when something great happens to one of them. We vicariously live through each others’ experiences and the sense of community this creates, as a result, is heartwarming.

    A lot of this is because of people like you. We appreciate your contribution, time and honesty. Thank you.

  159. David, I’d love to hear the story of your Wattpad experience sometime–how you used it, how you tied it into later publishing. That’d be a useful blog post to me, since I’m ramping up fiction writing and finishing a novel (and I love the short form).

    1. Thanks for the China link, must have missed that first time around. Valuable.

      By my comment above about one way road – had you gone the Trad Pub route and been successful with a deal, that would be it, as you say tied for life. With Indie if all fails (impossible with your total package), one could always re-write re-title and if stubborn or dumb enough, go back to Trad.

  160. Congrats, David, on your success and many thank you’s to you and people like Mary Louisa (don’t you love her Wolfhound?) whose blogs are just the thing to keep the rest of us going. I am a newbie at self-publishing but a total crusader for it. My first novel, “Quintspinner – A Pirate’s Quest” is self-published and yet won lots of awards, and because of both of these situations, I have been asked to lead an “Introduction to Self Publishing workshop” at the end of May for a writers’ group of traditionally published authors. I have listed your blog and Mary Louisa’s in my “Must-Follow” Resource List hand-out to them.
    The world as we know it changes in many ways (especially in the area of technology), and those who, early on embrace the changes ,will benefit the most. So, yeehaw! Jump on the wagon, writers! Give it a try, I say.

    1. Hope this does not sound like a stupid question but have you or anyone researched the chances of plugging into Chinese the market.
      EFL is growing there due to the internet. (English as a Foreign Language).

  161. David, what a year! You made the smart and soul-satisfying choice. Sincere congratulations.

    I had a similar journey (and saw you on that same forum), although I did get an agent. But then came the brick wall of head-shaking editors: they didn’t know what to do with my strange hybrid of forensic geology and eco-thriller.

    But I’m finding new readers every day who know what to do with it: read it!

  162. Kudos for sharing your numbers! The fact that you have an experience like this you’re willing to share is great and helps anyone else in the same boat. I’ve been self-publishing since 2005 (back when it was a horrible thing to do), and my sales every month have almost doubled since November… I’ve also been able to pay the rent and the bills with my writing, and it’s such a great feeling knowing that I’m doing this my way… look forward to reading more of your journey as it develops.

    Armand Rosamilia

  163. David,
    a deserved Congratulations and thank you.
    The answer is quite simple in my humble opinion, had you not taken the route you have you certainly would not have enriched as many or as wide a range of people with your words. And this way it is and will be a two way road, the alternative was always going to be one way only.

  164. David, this is such an insightful post! I hope you don’t mind us reposting the first few paragraphs on the Wattpad blog (we added a link to your blog to continue reading). We’d like more Wattpadders to read this and get inspired by your success!

      1. I think that the greatest thing about the rise in self-publishing is it gives writers more options. Instead of writers begging for a publishing deal (any kind of deal), they are now beginning to value their work – looking beyond what might look like an attractive advance and running the numbers. I think it’s encouraging writers to take a longer term view, and that can only be a good thing. I think writers are perfectly entitled to ask a publisher “What can you do for me?” I certainly wouldn’t have had the smarts to ask that a year or two ago, but it would be my first question today.

      1. (Sssh, don’t tell anyone but I don’t write every day. I’m an unreformed binge writer. This year I stopped fighting it and started focusing on increasing the productivity and frequency of writing bursts. Overall, I’m happy with my output but see lots of room for improvement.)

  165. Dear David,

    Congratulations on the year’s success (and thanks for sending all those people my way with links to my category post!!).

    I just gave a talk at a writers association about self-publishing, and while most of the people there were thrilled to hear that self-publishing was now a viable option, there was one young man who was clearly stuck in the “self-published work is crap” school of thought, and he was very skeptical that self-publishing was actually working for any but a tiny minority (the famous Amanda Hocking) was the only name he knew.

    It was hard to convey to him how profoundly everything had changed in the past two years, or the how frequently I read on blog after blog the stories and the comments of authors who have tried self-publishing and not only found greater financial success but incredible creative benefits as well. I wish there was one place for us all to go and do what the recent Amazon shareholder report did-just write two paragraphs where we could simply state our name, a little of our publishing history, our books, our genre, our sales data, and the two best things about being self-published. I think this would blow the world of publishing away!

    Another thought this post prompted. As a speaker about self-pubishing at another conference in January, I found myself at a table with some young editors. At a certain point they began to sincerely mourn books and authors that they had recently had to turn down–despite their belief that the books were great books and the authors very talented–because they couldn’t “sell” the books to the editors and marketing departments above them. As one of them put it, “there are only so many books I feel I can fight for a year, and this wasn’t one of them.” There was real sadness that a great story was never going to be read and an author might give up writing. But when I spoke up and said, “Well, why don’t you tell them to self-publish?” They looked at me like I was speaking in tongues.

    I don’t think that traditional publishing industry people yet understand what terrible damage they were doing to the creative minds of the world by making the barriers to getting your work out there higher and higher. They had gotten used to just shrugging off the books that they turned away as “having potential but don’t think we can sell it.” Maybe they told themselves someone else would pick up the book (but hope secretly if that happened that the books wouldn’t do so well that they would rue the decision to pass it by) But in any case, they seem to still be focused on the idea that they are saving the world of readers from bad books. Consequently they don’t yet get why ebook publishing and Amazon’s removal of those barriers has had such a profoundly positive effect on authors–and has brought such pleasure to the readers who are discovering these works that are new, cheap, and not clones of whatever was the best seller 2-3 years ago.

    My first book, Maids of Misfortune, stayed in a drawer for 20 years (taken out occasionally to try again for a contract), before I self published. Without self-publishing it might have stayed in that drawer forever, but even if I had been exceptionally lucky (following your best case scenario) if I had instead sold my first book in 2009 instead of trying to self-publish it, I would probably only recently gotten the final payment of a $5000 advance. I would not have been able to retire completely (as I did) to write full time–so the second book wouldn’t be written, much less published. I would have had to spend just as much time marketing, but I would be living in fear that my numbers for the first book wouldn’t be enough to get me another contract.The price on the book would probably have been too high, I wouldn’t have had the benefit of free promotions, and given the shrinking shelves in bookstores, I probably wouldn’t sell enough to start getting any royalties. But I did self-publish, and at the end of two years 38,000 people have bought my books, and another 50,000 have downloaded them for free as part of KDP Select promotions, and I have made more money than I ever thought possible.

    So here to a great second year to you-and all you indies out there.

    Mary Louisa, author
    Maids of Misfortune and Uneasy Spirits

  166. WOW! Congrats on your success! It’s funny that I ran into your blog, as I am battling with a similar predicament. I’m a different kind of writer; I am a grant writer. However, I’ve been writing a nonfiction book about grant writing – a sort of “how-to” – and I’m almost finished. I’ve been doing research on the pros & cons of self-publishing, and your blog was the final determining factor. I’m doing it. Thank you!

    – Jason

  167. I think I made the right decision.
    Absolutely. And well done, David. Your persistence has inspired me throughout the past several months–and I think persistence is what made all the difference. Keep going.

    1. Please feel free to share this post/repost it yourself (just link back here and it’s fine).

      I remember when I was querying this book that someone said that “A Storm Hits Valparaiso” made them think of a tornado hitting a trailer park in Indiana – and they advised me to change the title. Well, it seems the title made you pick it up!

      P.S. You can’t beat the feeling of seeing your own book in print. My second (POD) paperback is out in a week or so, and I plan to cradle it as much as my firstborn…

      1. That’s so funny! I thought I was done with the book in January; I thought wrong. I’ve made so many revisions and I’m making more. Some people have purchased the original book through my website, and I’ve promised them free copies of the revisions in the future. Thanks for your input. I really appreciate it!

        – Jason

  168. I nodded and agreed all the way through your post. I, too, am pleased I self-published. My book, ‘White Lies and Custard Creams’ was rejected for years and years and years by the traditional publishing industry. It went up on Amazon in June 2011 and was at number 3 in the top 100 paid in Kindle store by September 2011. It has sold over the 50k mark in downloads on Amazon alone. The query grind was getting me down, too, and the feeling of relief that I won’t be doing that again is indescribably glorious! Yay for us!!!

  169. Wow David! Awesome story. You’re doing the most important thing too — writing every day. Oh and you’re so right about the translation bit too. I was just thinking about putting time aside to translate my material as well. I have the advantage of being a native french speaker, so I’ll have one language done for free (lol), but I also want to get into other widely spoken languages.

    Anyway, congratulations on your accomplishments thus far 😀

  170. Congrats, David. I just finished my taxes for 2011 and I made $8000 in 2011 in ebook sales on Amazon. (B&N is a joke and not worth mentioning.) Anyway, since Christmas I’ve been averaging $5000 a month in sales. Now I do have a new release which is doing quite well, but my point is, you can move up pretty fast. I went from $800 a month to $5000 a month almost overnight. I don’t know how long this will last, but you’re a terrific writer and have a solid profile, keep pluggin along and we’ll continue to root for you.

  171. I am happy I subscribed to you blog after reading this particular entry. I too have been reading all over the map and feeling as overwhelmed as so many others with various contradictions and opinions. When I hear about successes I smile. There is nothing like someone else’s success to believe the impossible is possible. Congratulations on making great strategic moves. The future is bright for you – I feel it!

  172. Thank you for sharing your story. I knew I had finally resolved the “self-publish or traditional?” question when these two things happened: 1. Two indie presses wanted to work with me and I realized, “what do I need YOU for?” and said no thanks, and 2. a writer friend, who expected to land an agent very soon, offered to recommend me to the agent, and I said, “No, thanks. I just don’t know what they can do for me.”

    Because once the publishing game changed, and we writers were told we had to do everything ourselves, we learned how. Then we turned all Little Red Hen on the publishers, and decided to spend the bread ourselves!

  173. Dear David: Thanks a million for this candid, insightful perspective..I have been self-publishing since 1999. I am an advocate for the unknown writer out there..wondering, “Will anybody ever see my work?” It was simply worth it all to just see my first book and thereafter, in paperback, sitting there on my coffeetable. My question is this…do you mind if i share your post with my writer friends at Write-On Hoosiers? P.S. Your Valparaiso book caught my eye because i just happen to live in Valparaiso, Indiana…I’m sure your career is going to soar! ENJOY! You will be a miraculous happy ending…and beginning for us all. Thanks. Gail Galvan, Indiana Poet/writer/pioneer self-publisher of books….Write-On!

  174. You DID make the right decision! And you’ve gone on to inspire people like myself. I published my first ebook back in August of 2011. Shortly after that, I came across your blog, Joe Konrath’s, and a couple others I read religiously. In January I quit my job after sitting at that desk for 10 years wishing I had more time to write. I now have three ebooks out and am editing #4. Would that have happened going the traditional route? Not a chance. It’s so inspiring to read about people that started before me. I feel like I could be getting a glmpse of my own future, too! Thanks so much for sharing your journey.

    Oh, and I’m halfway through A Storm Hits Valparaison, and it’s wonderful so far. To think it could have ended up “trunked”! What a shame that would have been.

  175. You rock, David. And your experience parallels mine, except you sport a cool hat, have serious pimped-out blog stats (287,000 visitors?!), and probably have an accent that makes it impossible to keep the women at bay.

  176. Congratulations and happy anniversary! You’ve done a great job and I appreciate all your good advice on the blog. May you have continued success and may we all follow your good example.

  177. Happy anniversary and thanks for the retrospective. As someone who is a few days away from pushing the upload button myself, I really appreciate your thoughts on the path you took vs. the alternate version. I only wish I’ll have as much success as you.

  178. David, congratulations on your anniversary. After two years, I’m creeping toward your numbers, so you’ve done a fantastic job IMO. Just think, this is only the start and I’m sure you have lots more to write. Wishing you many more years of successful self-publishing.

    1. It’s not easy. There is a steep learning curve. You need to be disciplined with your time and not let the million potential distractions keep you from writing. But, having said that, it’s certainly not as hard as firing off queries into the abyss and getting nothing but scorn or rejection in return (when they bother replying).

      1. “There is no better way to start the day than with an email from a reader.”

        Amen to that.

      2. I’m really just trying to play the devil’s advocate here, because what you say makes perfect sense. Two things kind of stick in my mind:

        1. How many ebooks keep on selling at the same rate for 4 years? Even in an expanding market, we don’t really know. But to an outsider, it would probably look a bit like an example of ‘boom mentality’.

        2. Your assumptions about the trad route are based on the past model. But publishers are busy hiring www specialists and kitting up to exploit the ebook market. It’s not going to be the same industry in a couple of years’ time. Look at the Friday Project/HC, for example.

  179. Congratulations on your indie anniversary, David! That scenario you played out sounds about right from what I’ve heard, and very similar to my own experience, even with a wonderful agent. Best wishes to you for year two!

  180. Congrats and thanks for sharing an inspiring story.

    “I have more confidence in my work and in myself.”

    This is one of the things that stood out for me about the success stories at the back of Let’s Get Digital – the number of authors who said they gained a renewed artistic confidence as a result of seeing people buy their books and leave positive feedback – even at the beginning, when they had only sold a few copies.

    I’m sure the money is great, but it looks like there’s something about self-publishing that’s good for a writer’s soul.

  181. Congrats on your adventure in self-publishing so far, David! I think you underestimate the “best case scenario” if the right agent and the right editor had loved the book, but none of that really matters. You’re happy with what you’re doing, and you’re having fun, and you’re making money, and you’re writing, so that’s all that matters, right? 🙂

  182. I feel ya, David. I started self-publishing three months ago, and though I’ve only sold a handful of copies, I’ve discovered my mood and my outlook on a writing career are much, much more positive than back when I was swamping every agency in New York with query letters.

    I think the most important fact to keep in mind when you’re self-publishing is that the process of putting your work out there, promoting it, writing blog posts, and learning to use social media, is a valuable learning experience–more than anything you could get at school or in a master’s program. It equips you with a whole new set of tools that will help you live a fuller life, whether you make money off your books or not.

    Plus, my mom is REAL proud of me.

    Thanks again for a great post, David. I look forward to them each week.

  183. Oh David you are talking my story. Partnering with my husband and starting our own small press has grown us personally in so many ways. And the reach we’ve made selling our books has far exceeded our expectations. Any business takes 3 years to pay off itself – I’d say you’ve seen your profit much earlier and in 3 yrs you would have topped that 10fold! Thanks for sharing your story. Now authors have many choices and if they are willing to put forth the work – they can see success in multiple paths.

      1. Perhaps I should have expanded that section, because I think it’s important and doesn’t get spoken of enough. We can throw around all the numbers and dollar signs we like, but personal happiness is much more important. Querying is such an intensely negative experience. No matter how much confidence you have, no matter how persistent you are, no matter how thick your skin is, you will likely hit a wall at some point. I remember when one agent screwed me around. I thought I had finally got representation, and he pulled the rug from under me. I also remember trying to get back on the horse straight away and send a few new queries out – and I just couldn’t do it. I was done.

        Self-publishing changed everything for me. Before I uploaded to Amazon, readers were a kind of mythical creature. It was only after I published my first e-book that I realized that the internet has torn down all the walls between writer and reader. I get emails all the time from people that have read my stuff, and it’s great! There is no better way to start the day than with an email from a reader.

        Aside from that regular boost, there is something incredibly motivating about self-publishing. I want to write a million books now, and a year ago, I thought I would have been lucky to squeeze one more out.

  184. Congratulations on your success David! It’s truly inspiring, especially as I’m just about to release a self-published novel myself. It often seems like a hard route to take, sometimes so hard it feels like it might not be worth it. But your blog post has made me feel very excited about what I might be able to achieve if I put in the work. Many thanks for sharing! 🙂

  185. You are an incredible inspiration, Mr. Gaughran! I hope you continue to do well in the future and grace us with your writings. You give hope to younger, more alternative writers everywhere. Thank you for taking the time and effort to blog for us, Godspeed!

  186. Congratulations on your success! I think the freedom and speed of self-publishing is worthwhile in itself, but making competitive money on top of that is an achievement to be proud of.

    1. One thing you need to keep in mind is that no-one follows the same sales path. I know writers who sold a handful of books in their first six months, and then exploded. I know others who took a year or longer to get going. And then there are those who raced out of the gate and had thousands of sales in their first few months. I was outselling some of the writers that started at the same time as me, and plenty of them have zoomed right past me (and one is earning more than enough to support herself now).

      Everyone is going to be different. Keep at it!

      1. I thought about that section for some time. I tried to be fair. We aren’t talking about a putative agent hunt. Remember that I queried this novel for eighteen months and it got 300 rejections/non-responses. Off the top of my head, maybe 50 or 60 agents requested the partial and maybe 20 or 25 agents requested the full – maybe more. They all turned it down. The main reason was the supposed “marketability” of the book, with more than a few of them saying they liked the writing/story, but they couldn’t sell a historical set in South America from an unknown.

        Taking them at their word, I think my best case scenario was fair enough.

        While we are on the topic actually, I recently saw a survey of historical fiction readers which said the 2% of respondents rated the geographical setting of historical novels as important (time period was MUCH more important, as was whether the book was about a minor/major historical figure or not etc.). Shows what agents know!

  187. And you have to add in the intangible value of inspiring hundreds upon hundres of writers (including this one) considering going the same path. Happy Anniversary! And wishing you much more success.

  188. Happy publication anniversary David! And congratulations on your success so far. Reading your post has inspired me with fresh optimism for the future. I’ve only been tweeting and blogging for a few months – and it’s very early days for my two e-books. I’m half-way through writing another novel and have been wondering about going through the whole submission process again. I’ve had a literary agent in the past but things didn’t work out, and after reading your post and hearing other similar stories, I do wonder if it’s worth the effort – especially in such a rapidly changing digital climate. I remain undecided, but at least it’s no longer the only way to get your book out there and make some money too. Thanks for your post and best of luck.

    1. We might agree more than you think.

      If we look at what sells books (and this hasn’t changed dramatically over time), the biggest reasons that readers always give are that they read something by the author before (and enjoyed it), or it was recommended by a trusted source (be that friend, newspaper, teacher, blog, Amazon’s Also Boughts or whatever).

      Every single other factor (cover, blurb, sample, price) are way off in the distance (cover is next in line). Word of mouth is what really sells books. But how do you first get noticed? How do you get those first groups of people to read your book, then talk about it?

      That’s far from an exact science, but we know the kind of things that help: an arresting cover (which suits the genre), a snappy title, an enticing blurb, a well written sample that hooks the reader right from the start, and a reasonable price. Writing in popular genres can help, as can targeting a niche that might be under-served. Having lots of books certainly helps. Ten books is ten more ways that readers can find you or your books – ten more trails of breadcrumbs across the internet leading back to your blog or Amazon pages. Writing great stories definitely helps. Nothing gets readers talking like a really great book. No recommendation carries more weight than a friend thrusting a copy into your hands and *insisting* you read it.

      On the other hand, I see books with crappy covers do well all the time. Or books with formatting errors. Or books with a flaccid blurb. Or authors with only one book out. But you couldn’t say that writing one book, and presenting it in a crappy way is going to increase your chances of success.

      Success requires nothing more than dumb luck. That’s the only necessary condition. There’s no writer that became successful that didn’t get some kind of lucky break along the way. I think doing all the stuff I outlined above will increase your chances of getting lucky, but they don’t guarantee it. Nothing can. But I think a good, determined writer has a better chance than ever.

  189. great blog post! Self-publishing definitely seems to be the right decision for you. Having taken the plunge ourselves in February, we’re now convinced it was the right decision for us. Like you, we were getting despondent with the constant rejections (if the agents/editors bothered replying) but now we’ve released our own book, we don’t have to worry about rejections. Our sales are nothing like yours – we’ve only made £12 so far – but the whole experience has been so rewarding that we’re planning on doing it again with another short story collection and our debut novel. If we waited for a publisher or agent to accept our novel, it would probably be years before it’s released. Doing it ourselves means we can get it out this year. Seeing as authors are now expected to do the majority of marketing anyway, why not go it alone? The royalties are better, the rewards are better (knowing you did all or most of the work) and it’s fun.

    1. Thanks for replying, and for the details. As far as the “publish a professional looking product”–well, let’s just agree to disagree on that. 🙂 There are plenty of excellent and excellent-looking books that don’t do nearly as well as yours did–and that’s not in any way a put-down on you, or a patch on your success. It’s just that writing a good book and making it look good aren’t enough. I wish I knew what was, though. That’s what everybody’s trying to figure out.

      1. That kind of book is *perfect* for self-publishing. Not only will you get it on the market much, much quicker, but you can also update it whenever you like, and even chop it up and sell it in pieces if you choose. On top of that, you know *exactly* who your target market is, and probably where they congregate online. Best of luck with it.

      2. Hey Mary Lou. That attitude is quite sad really, but sadder still is that writers still subscribe to it too. I’m sure many of these people mean well with their advice, but it’s just dumb. We can argue all we like about which path is better, but for a book you can’t sell? A writer shouldn’t think twice. While they are looking for a deal, if that’s still what they really want, they can be building an audience, making money, having a ball, and keep querying.

        I’m doing a couple of talks/workshops in England in September. I expect to run into the same attitude in certain quarters. My question will be a simple one. If a writer has trunked a novel – which they genuinely feel is good enough but just couldn’t sell for whatever reason – and has written something else and is now querying with that, what good reason is there not to self-publish the trunk novel? I can’t think of one. Even if a writer wanted to completely disassociate themselves from the book (for whatever reason), they could always publish it under a pen-name.

        P.S. Holy guacamole, I love those numbers. 38,000? Wowza.

  190. Congrats, first off! I agree, it sounds like you made the right decision!
    I am curious, though, about the “expenses” you said you’d incurred. Were those marketing and advertising? Or just general living expenses and book production expenses?
    Also, in general, how do you feel you managed to attract sufficient attention to make your sales take off?

    1. All expenses are related to publishing or promoting the four e-books and two print editions I have released. The biggest expense was editing. Aside from that, there were all sorts of little expenses – advertising, commissioning a map for my historical novel, print formatting, comp copies of print books, giveaways of print books, postage etc.

      I try and do as much stuff as possible myself (like e-book formatting) but I hire help where needed (editing, covers, print formatting).

      Marketing expenses are a tiny percentage of my outlay. I’ve had a few ad spots, that’s it. IMO, the best marketing you can do is publish a professional looking product, and, for me, that means investing in a great editor, cover etc.

    1. Hi Meg,

      They pay you by cheque. But, Amazon will withhold 30% of your royalties until your clear your tax status with them. This involves filling out a few forms and sending them a notarized copy of your passport.


    1. I saw the addendum and left a comment.

      It’s funny, you wrote your post in response to flag-waving by self-publishers, and I wrote mine in response to what I saw as denial by agents and those in the publishing world.

      To me, the publisher is the person who controls the rights, not the one who uploads the books, arranges for the covers, or anything else. I accept that others may have a different definition of what constitutes a “publisher” and what particularly defines a “self-publisher”, and I think the latest developments are showing the limitations of our current definitions rather than any real disagreement.

  191. I 100% agree. Well said.

    The main point I think – and you just made it – is that Rowling being able to sell outside the established retailer channels IS revolutionary, but she is one of a handful of authors who can feasibly do that, if not the only one. This is nothing to do with the average self-publisher, and they need to stop waving it around like it is.

  192. Great post David but I think the self-publishing world (by which I mean self-published authors, including myself) are missing the point, which is that this is nothing to do with them. I’m sick to the teeth of reading things about “how self-publishing came of age” and how it “lost its stigma” etc. etc. because of this. We are talking about a phenomenally successful TRADITIONALLY PUBLISHED author who is now in a position to skip retailers and sell direct to her readers, but since the books she’s selling earned her a billion+ in print (and have been edited, etc. by her publishers) she has to pay them a cut. She is capitalizing on her traditionally published success. How is this a win for self-publishers?

    I’m not saying *you* said it was a win for self-publishers, but that’s the general self-published-author angle on the reporting of this, and in case you can’t tell, it’s driving me mad! 🙂

    1. Hey Catherine,

      I actually agree with you. I think this changes little for the average self-published author – excepting a related bump in e-reader sales from October on perhaps. Now, if I was about to e-publish an MG fantasy I might feel a little different…those kids will need something else to read when they are done with Harry Potter.

      Funnily enough, I think this will have a lot more impact on successful trade published writers than it will have for self-publishers. The big publishers will be working even harder now to keep their stars.

      Regarding “coming of age”, I think John Locke selling a million Kindle books is more of a sign of that. And as for any stigma, to be honest, that only exists among writers and those in the publishing industry. The general public don’t really care. They just want good books – whoever they are written by.

      I think it’s important to separate two things out here that Rowling is doing – one is not that revolutionary, and one is. Deciding to self-publish your backlist and sell it through your website is not that revolutionary and anyone – in theory – can do it. Deciding to cut out all the retailers is, and she is one of few writers in the world that could do it without decimating her sales.

      I think the kind of articles you describe are just lazy journalism. They need a “face” to put on self-publishing so they can now say it’s viable or that it’s “arrived”. However, it’s been viable for quite some time. The media like to box things off, or put their finger on some arbitrary moment so they can say: this is when it got serious. It’s nonsense.

      I found this story interesting because of what it says about the ability of major publishers to hang on to their talent, and another sign of how disruptive to their business model the rise of the internet and e-books is, not as validating self-publishing, or proving it’s a viable choice or anything like that. For me, that argument was won a long time ago.


  193. Go, JK! I wish my brain worked like that. Though I imagine she has lots of smart business people advising her.

    In regards to the situation of ebooks not being available to a huge chunk of the world; I think that makes it a good idea to have books for sale via your blog/website. Of course, us little guys aren’t going to have the clout JK has, but if we can somehow steer people in India or Africa or Japan our way…

    1. They can all buy from Smashwords, but they would need a credit card – and getting one in certain parts of the world is much harder than it is in the US or the UK. In addition, Smashwords buying system is quite clunky, and takes a bit of figuring out, and I could see some people just giving up before purchasing.

      Selling through your own website has its pros and cons. Pros are you keep up to 95% of the cover price (depending on your price and payment processor). Cons are you could cannibalize your own Amazon sales and affect your ranking and any potential position in the genre bestseller charts.

  194. Whatever name you want to put on Rowling’s venture, her results are going to be very important in how e-publishing develops. If she succeeds, others will emulate. Whether her method winds up being followed or avoided, she’s going to be a trendsetter.

    Speaking of results, these new interactive features she’s hyping had better be unique enough to hook people that have already bought the books. I’m an American college student. A lot of my classmates got into Harry Potter when they were younger, and read the whole series. On my side of the pond, it’s going to take something absolutely revolutionary to get people to purchase this “interactive experience”, when they’ve already paid money for books, movies, and video games.

    If Pottermore can’t deliver that, then Rowling needs to cross her fingers that there will be enough newcomers to help her “make another billion”, because she won’t get any help from us.

    1. The newcomers already are comfortable with e-reading. My two year old know the IPad better than I ever will. While we read print books to her, she already has a preference for digital. To keep the ‘Harry Potter’ open as a long term franchise, JK had no choice but to go ebooks.

      I’m more interested in the impact of the shift. It will “pull” a huge audience that was ‘pro-hardcover’ to ebooks. The only question is at what rate?


      1. It was fascinating watching my brother’s three year-old use an iPhone and play games on it. After a few minutes it was second nature.

        It will pull kids to e-books a little sooner than expected. It will be fascinating to watch the e-reader numbers from October to Christmas. I think it’s going to be BIG.


    2. Hi Sean,

      You make an excellent point. It’s 14 years since the first book came out. However, there are a whole bunch of kids who could discover him for the first time that weren’t even born when the first book came out. It will be interesting to watch the sales numbers IF she ever releases them – she might not.

      The interactive reading aspect, as I understand it, is separate from the books and free to use. That way, existing fans can enjoy it without spending money. That’s the “give back” to the fans she was talking about. But it’s also a clever way to connect with them again.


      1. I’m digging your point. Nevertheless I must play devil’s advocate. What’s stopping these kids from pulling the books off the shelves, books that their older siblings (or parents) had bought years before?

      2. Maybe they will. Maybe the e-books sales will be disappointing. We have no real way of knowing how saturated the market is for the books, and what percentage of people will be willing to buy the e-book. It will be fascinating to watch though.

    1. No idea if that is a factor or not. There is talk of some kind of “watermark” being attached to the books, so she does appear to have some concerns about piracy but (rightly) doesn’t think DRM can do the job.

      The two best ways to combat piracy are through convenience and price. The “convenience” ship has sailed to some extent – because the e-books weren’t officially on sale they were heavily pirated. There was no legal way for a reader to purchase the e-books – which is a huge motivator for piracy. What happens with price will be interesting. How much will she charge? If it’s too high, that will encourage piracy.

      If she prices low, then most people won’t go through the hassle of finding a “clean” pirated version. It will be interesting to see what approach she adopts and what this “watermark” will be. Whatever it is, some dude in Indonesia will have it cracked in about 10 seconds.

      1. =o) That’s funny but true. Pirates will crack it within seconds. It’s the downside to being such a famous author – if you are like her, you are the prime target of pirating.

  195. In England, in the literate circles as well as the American literati, it’s considered poor form to admit to wanting to make gobs of cash. If Rowling’s goal is to bank by self- pubbing, she has to hide it in altruistic banter. I doubt that’s case. I think control is much more her game. Creative control is gold for writers. She doesn’t have to answer to anyone.

    1. There’s no doubt that control is a big issue here. She wants to be sure that everyone reads the same book at the same price. The only way to control that 100% is to sell through your own website.

  196. “That was from Publisher’s Weekly. Aside from the ludicrous suggestion that any writer couldn’t set up a website and sell their own work direct to the public, note they use “decision to be her own publisher” instead of the dreaded words “self-publishing”.
    Another signs of traditional publishing’s ultimate failure when facts are already covered by lies. First of all what rule prohibit anyone to set up a website and sell our own work directly to public? I also set up a website (In this case I already violated this never existed rule, right?). And if I want I can setup a section to sell all my works directly from that site (And as there is an inactive $ icon at the bottom of each of the volume pages, I already have the place for that. Never existed rule violation #2.). So if I understand Publisher’s Weekly correctly, in this case I’m also not making any sort of self publishing, I just made the decision to be my own publisher. Yeah, right.

    Geez. I “love” when so called professionals are twisting the words just to hide the absolute and obvious facts.

  197. Briefly to add Amazon do not sell to Africa either. I can only access Amazon through my UK account.

    Seems to me the self-publishing thing is a given. We mere mortals do not actually self-publish, of course. We just self-upload to the distributor and incur the insults of the legacy mob for being able to do so without giving them a share.

    As yet I remain unconvinced of any philanthropic element to Rowling’s desire that “everyone around the world could have the exact same reading experience and could access her work at the same price.”

    Most of the world do not have access to computers, let alone e-readers (most e-readers are geared to the English language anyway) and most of the world could not afford to buy Harry Potter at any price.

    As a business woman and an unparalleled writing success story one can only admire what she’s doing. But let’s not pretend this is anything other than a money-machine.

    Jk, I’d love you to prove me wrong on that one.

    1. That’s interesting re. Africa.

      I know South Africans can download books from the store. Weird that they have broken them out from the rest of Africa. And it’s just plan weird to me that Amazon would prevent anyone from downloading e-books. How many potential customers are we losing in, for example, Japan, Hong Kong, and Korea? Why can Indians buy e-books and not Singaporeans? It’s bizarre, and must be costing Amazon (and us) a huge amount of sales.

      1. Amazon don’t define “Africa” (their term), but I’m guessing South African ISPs have in some way been opted in and all else are excluded. I have to use a proxy server to access my existing UK account and fellow Brits here without a pre-existing account are blocked from both .co,uk despite having UK credit cards, UK address, etc.

        Holiday makers coming here with their Kindle and wanting to download are going to be sorely disappointed… I wonder if the same will apply in other African tourist destinations like Egypt, Kenya, Tunisia, etc.

        It will be interesting to see how long paper remains as the primary method of book distribution outside the English-speaking world. I’m told that the Kindle does not even come with German language instructions for the market.

      2. You’re right. It doesn’t. It’s all in English.

        Plus, if you want to order a Kindle in Europe (outside DE and UK) it gets shipped from the US with a US plug attached! Such a simple thing to fix. This is why you don’t see Kindles in mainland Europe. Anywhere. I see iPhones and iPads, but no Kindles. My friends all across Europe say the same. Kobo are making inroads into Asia, Australia, and now have their sights set on Europe. Amazon need to wake up.

      3. India can buy ebooks? That’s a nice market. 😉

        But why limit? I’d love to know the real reason.

        I apologize. I didn’t realize Google was making me approve your posts and it was only obvious when I logged in a different way to my blog than normal. Interesting stuff! That and I have been spending more time with my girls. 😉


      4. Yes, they can, and there is a huge and growing middle class that speaks perfect English and is interested in Western culture. But then Amazon sticks a $2 surcharge on all e-books sold there. Stupid.


  198. David,

    I read you post on the (cough, cough) writer’s forum. It’s amazing to me that these people will stare a horse in the face and tell you its a goat. So ridiculous. They are missing the point that JK Rowling is the one in control, not her publishers, not Amazon, not B&N, not her partners, not agents. *She* is the one doing this. That is what self-publishing is all about – giving the author control of their own work.

  199. So, does everyone who has published through Smashwords now make sure that their book is ready on Sony for when the tidal wave comes? For me, they are going to be the biggest winners. *shrugs*. (point to note: we haven’t sold ONE book on Sony to date, yet 65,000 on Amazon). Surely the Pottermore site will direct everyone to Sony e-readers?

    Posted today about this :

    The only real winner here is JK, it’s a no brainer really…

    Good luck to her and the rest of us serfs who will be forever riding on the tail of her broomstick dust.


    1. Yeah, I’m selling about 1,000 units a month of one of my eBooks on Amazon, another 750 copies or so on B&N, maybe 100 on iBookstore, and almost none on Sony… That has always struck me as very odd! Are there just that few people using their Sony reader?

    2. Saffi,

      I don’t know of anyone that sells a lot on Sony. I think the newer Sony e-readers just use mobi files, so maybe all those guys shop on B&N and elsewhere.

      The e-books will be available in all formats – she stressed that – but that doesn’t mean there will be a new Sony e-reader pre-loaded with all the HP books in October.


  200. Not having Harry Potter on Amazon sounds good to me. There’s enough competition out there without Rowling hogging the Kindle top ten for the next year or so.

    As for encouraging e-reader sales – unless prices come down to affordable levels for families then I’d guess most fans will settle for downloading whatever app is available to their existing laptop, iPad or whatever.

    What is does do is signal the reign of paper is well and truly coming to an end.

    1. Mark,

      I think all of the major companies will have $99 (or less) e-readers for Christmas – Amazon, B&N, Kobo – that price is a pyschological tipping point.

      The numbers of e-readers, smartphones, and tablets that will be sold from October to Christmas will be insane (with or without Harry Potter).

      The e-book market is going to explode (again).


      1. Yeah, I’ve been looking at Kindles, but at $139 plus another $30 or so for shipping to Canada I’d rather stick to running the Kindle software on my laptop instead. Get it down to $99 and have it in the stores here and I’d pick one up next time I’m at the mall.

      2. Exactly my feeling. I’m living in Sweden at the moment. I have all those charges plus import duties. On top of that, Amazon stick a $2 Whispernet Surcharge on every single e-book. Very annoying.

      3. Yep, at $99, they’ll sell a lot more — I’ve assumed their manufacturing costs haven’t quite come down enough yet to hit that price. I was surprised the Kindle with Ads wasn’t $99…

        A lot of people are reading eBooks on “non-dedicated” devices, too, like their phones and tablets… so either way, the readership for eBooks is only going to grow each year… It’s a cool time to be publishing.